What – the hell – is patriarchy? And does post-development mean a comeback of matriarchy?
OPEN LETTER (.pdf)
to the editors and co-authors of A. Kothari et al. (Eds.): „Pluriverse. A Post-Development Dictionary“, New Delhi 2019
Dear editors and co-authors!
As one of the authors I have gone through the Pluriverse-book that appeared just a few days ago,
and I would like to comment on it.
Thank you for having contributed to this incredible collection of articles that first of all are
documenting the self descriptions of worldwide social movements who have said goodbye to
„development“. This way, the major part III of the book is dedicated to the post-development
After having written my own contribution „new matriarchies“, I did not expect to find that our
„pluriverse“ would turn out to be basically – „matriarchal“! Though with different words and
concepts most of the authors refer to a desired future which is presented more or less like the pre-
colonial and pre-patriachal past: egalitarian, no hierarchies, no patriarchy, no capitalism, no
exploitation and extractivism, a technology in tune with nature, a subsistence and gift economy, no
violence and war, no state apparatus, a close relationship with nature, a spiritual relationship to her
and between her and the people, the dignity of all life, and much love for Mother Earth.
I nearly could not believe it: It is indeed like matriarchy!
In the other parts of the book, however, most of the discussions still concentrate on development,
colonialism and capitalism, why they did not or could not fulfill their promises, and how the debate
went on resulting in post-development as an alternative to development instead of an alternative
development, as was discussed before.
As for a comparison between the first parts and the third part of the book the question arises how
they relate to each other. Because, what is expressed in the third part does not so much have to do
with development/alism, its politics and debates any more, but with the continuity from precolonial
culture and civilization to an alternative, post- colonial one – interrupted by „development“.
Maybe this becomes more obvious than it would have occurred otherwise, because the restriction to
two pages and the form given to the texts forced us as authors to concentrate on the very essence of
What is remarkable, however, is the absence of the concept of „matriarchy“ practically everywhere.
The same is true for its counter-concept of „patriarchy“ though the word patriarchy/patriarchal is at
least mentioned many times. It seems, therefore, that we need a debate about both of them!
Because, how is it possible to explain the change from capitalism to matriarchy without a concept of
matriarchy and patriarchy – and their connection or disconnection with capitalism, which itself then
seems to be somehow different from what it is believed to be, as well.
Looking at the difference between the first parts and the third one from a female point of view, it
appears as if it was mainly women who looked at development from their „old“ point of view all the
time over, not believing in it anyway, so that when it failed and everybody had to acknowledge it,
they just continued to look at it the same way, and men had to agree to it and had to return to this
view again. Whereas it was mainly men who had tried to cooperate with development and had
hopes in it or believed in it – that ́s what patriarchy seems to mean to them. But in the meantime
they had to learn that it did not work out for them as well. And now they are engaged in the „great
turning“ to the older views again, „back“ or „forward“ to them…
Now men try to explain how and why in the times of development they did not believe in their own
culture and women anymore, being seduced and corrupted by western colonialism, capitalism and
patriarchy. Reflecting this historical mistake, however, will take more time because the question of matriarchy
and patriarchy is not really understood and defined yet, not to speak of their relationship with
capital, the whole of modern civilization and especially machine technology, which means „progress
and development“, concerning especially the nihilistic and hateful attitude of the latter towards all
life and women in the first place.
So, what the hell, is patriarchy? It is obvious that it does not simply consist of a „bad male
behaviour“, for example the famous „machismo“ in Latin America, as is believed everywhere.
Because this behaviour, as I would define it, is only the result of a myth that men are taught to
believe in, namely, that they are called to realize the great work of an overthrow of Mother Nature
herself by creating a life that is supposed to be superior to the normal one, so that they would
replace mothers and nature by „fathers“ and machines. This is the promise of progress and
development, this is why patriarchal men behave so arrogant and violent toward nature, life and
women, and this is why many of them were and still are caught by development and try to realize it.
So, whereas the authors in part III of the book are expressing how they started to understand what
has happened and why their former culture will also be their future one, if there is any future at all,
most of the authors in the rest of the book didn ́t get to that yet. They are still fighting with
development and explaining why they believed in it and/or how difficult it was or it would be to
forget about it. What and where is the alternative, anyway? Some of them did not really leave
development behind, which means that they did not see that also their own future will be
„matriarchal“ again or fail to exist. This is what they could and should learn from the social
movements in the South. During the last decades this was not so clear yet, because many
movements still believed in „progress and development“, if it was declared to be at least „socialist“.
It was mostly the emergence of the indigenous movements in combination with the ecological
question and the movements of women that changed this view. This was very well explained for
instance by the „Sub“ Marcos from the Zapatista movement in Mexico.
In sum, in „Pluriverse“, there is no thorough theoretical and/or practical debate of matriarchy and
patriarchy and their relationship with capitalism/socialism, colonialism and their technologies, and
why these are so detrimental to nature and life, be it for the South, be it for the North. These
questions, however, lurk around every corner of the book, but they are not taken up and discussed.
There seems to be no consciousness of their importance as theoretical concepts and not only words.
There is, therefore, missing an analysis deep enough to show what has really happened historically
and is still happening or will happen now, because the western system which is a patriarchal war
system that wants to „transform“ everything the way explained already, does not stop to exist only
because the colonies are awakening from development dreams and the promises of patriarchy trying
to move towards their own truth again.
The way I see it, it is wonderful to realize that in practice patriarchy, capitalism, colonialism and
development are all questioned now in a deeper way than before – this is what the book shows very,
very clearly. It seems that once the ideology has somehow disappeared, because it proved to be
more than wrong, there is again room for a new truth or the old one. But, from a theoretical point of
view, this change is neither sufficiently expressed nor explained, though it would be important to do
so in order to rise it to the consciousness of all those concerned, especially also those in the North.
Only then they, too, would more radically oppose that which we call „capitalist patriarchy“, learning
their lesson from the South.
It seems that today it is the other way around, and we in the North learn from those in the South. We
learn, for example, that our past was matriarchal as well! We have forgotten about it, as we have
been „developing“ so much!The reason why we need this theoretical debate is quite clear. The movements show it themselves,
and the West, including today the East as well do and did not change. Their response will be the
same as the one of the West 500 years ago, no doubt.
The book leaves the impression, however, that we are now next to the exit to paradise, or have even
passed through it already, because we do not believe in development any more. This, however, will
not be enough. Whereas many social movements of the South are acting accordingly already, those
of the North, nevertheless, mostly are not…
In the „theoretical“ debate that I propose, it should be made clear what thís difference is all about,
why it exists, and how it can be overcome, eventually. Without new and „deep“ concepts of
matriarchy, patriarchy and capital this will not be possible.
I hope the book goes planetary, and I hope that there will be a further debate.
Claudia von Werlhof, Austria, 10.7.2019, email@example.com