Women’s oppression and the semi-colonial world; the Imperialist infantilisation of Afghan, Asian and African women

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06/01/2015 by socialistfight

LCFI Statement on International Women’s Day 8 March 2012.

Women’s oppression and Imperialism


Clara Zetkin (1857 – 1933) was a German Marxist theorist, activist, and fighter for women’s rights. In 1911, she organized the first International Women’s Day.

On 5 June 2011 a TrustLaw (an international legal collective) poll found Afghanistan to be the most dangerous country in the world for women to live in. It was followed by the Congo “plagued by rape as weapon of war”, Pakistan “blighted by acid attacks and ‘honour killings’”, India “trafficking and sexual slavery” and Somali, “seen as having full gamut of risks” – e.g. 98% of women suffer some form of genital mutilation. Somali women’s minister Maryan Qasim told TrustLaw;”The most dangerous thing a woman in Somalia can do is to become pregnant. When a woman becomes pregnant her life is 50-50 because there is no antenatal care at all. There are no hospitals, no healthcare, no nothing.”[1]
It is the common misconception that all of this is due to the backward, barbaric cultures of these regions and the United Nations is doing the best job possible in combating this appalling treatment of women, much of it down to Islamic fundamentalism and/or Hindu chauvinism.
However Sylvia Tamale, a Ugandan legal scholar, says about female genital mutilation (FGM) that some African feminists object to what she calls the imperialist infantilisation of African women, and they reject the idea that FGM is nothing but a barbaric rejection of modernity. Tamale suggests that there are cultural and political aspects to the practice’s continuation that make opposition to it a complex issue.[2]
We affirm that the oppression of women has its origins in the overthrow of the mother right and the development of class society through the establishment of private property. Today it is a direct product of global Imperialism and the rapacious hunt for profit of international finance capital. As William Blum says in the introduction to his book Killing Hope:

“Post-cold war, New-World-Order time, it looks good for the M-I-I-C [3] and their global partners in crime, the World Bank and the IMF. They’ve got their NAFTA and their GATT World Trade Organization. They’re dictating economic, political and social development all over the Third World and Eastern Europe. Moscow’s reaction to events anywhere is no longer a restraining consideration.
The UN’s Code of Conduct on Transnational Corporations, 15 years in the making, is dead. Everything in sight is being deregulated and privatized. Capital prowls the globe with a ravenous freedom it hasn’t enjoyed since before World War I, operating free of friction, free of gravity. The world has been made safe for the transnational corporation.”[4]

Women’s ‘rights’ are advancing in inverse proportion to the impoverishment and increased oppression of working class women in the advanced metropolitan countries and the absolute degradation and humiliation of women on the semi-colonies world as outlined by this TrustLaw survey.
The secret of women’s oppression in Afghanistan
Therefore the simple solution is to overthrow capitalism world-wide and impose equality and all will be well, it seems at first glance. However if we look at the terrible position of women in Afghanistan today we see we must propose a far more serious revolutionary programme. And here we have to go back to see how the new revolutionary Soviet regime dealt with these problems in the short few years before Stalinisation imposed its brutal methods of suppression that contained for a few decades but could never eliminate backward fundamentalist reaction.
The secret of women’s oppression in Afghanistan, for instance, lies in the material conditions of rural life. After the ‘Glorious Saur Revolution’ in April 1978 the Peoples Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) attempted to impose the ‘revolution’ from above in such a bureaucratic, heavy handed fashion that it stood no chance. They rode rough-shod over tribal customs and religious sensitivities and prejudices alike. For examples they granted land to the landless peasants without the provision of bank credit to fertilise it or buy seed. In consequence the peasants were forced back to the very landlords who had been expropriated when it was presented to the peasants by the ‘revolution’ in the first place. In many cases they had to accept the most humiliating terms and punishments from these reactionaries, including self- mutilations, for their ‘anti-Islamic actions’.[5]
But on the women question their terrible bureaucratic methods opened the door for today’s appalling situation. The PDPA failed to conduct any preparatory campaign against all the other reactionary customs like women’s oppression, e.g., the selling of daughters in forced marriages – the Kalym (bride price) -, etc. They issued ‘binding’ decrees but did not provide any viable alternative. They naturally did not expropriate the landowners by mobilising the peasants.
Early Bolshevik Work among Women of the Soviet East
Dale Ross (D. L. Reissner), the first editor of the SL’s (Spartacist League, James Robertson’s US split from the SWP in 1963) ‘Women and Revolution’, explained that method and history well in her article ‘Early Bolshevik Work among Women of the Soviet East’ (Issue No. 12 Summer 1976). She goes into great detail to explain the difference between the Bolshevik method of approaching this work and both the Menshevik and Stalinist method. In the period when the Mensheviks held control in the Caucuses region they pioneered the methods of brutal imposition of “progress” which Stalinism later adopted, which stood in such contrast to authentic Bolshevik methods.

Women in Communist Russia 1917-1945

The Zhenotdel, the Bolshevik organisation of revolutionary women, did the best work here in the years of revolution between the end of the Civil War in 1920 and the beginnings of the Stalinisation of the party in 1924. There is no need to ask which method the PDPA and the ‘Red Army’ operated in Afghanistan. Or which method the ICL supported so uncritically after the 1979 Soviet invasion.
The following quotes from that article stand in total repudiation to the ICL’s posturing Stalinophilia in Afghanistan. Note in particular the great detail given of the sensitivity of approach of the revolutionary Bolsheviks to local custom and law, in total contrast to the Menshevik and Stalinist methods. This also must be the method of approach on the question of female genital mutilation discussed below.
The revolutionary women of the Zhenotdel faced horrible death in the early 1920s by donning the paranja (a garment that totally covered women’s faces without even openings for eyes and mouth) to get the ear of the oppressed women. The ‘Red Army’ rained napalm on them in the 1980s. This account highlights, better than any other analytic article we have seen, the practical application of the transitional method in such circumstances:

“The Bolsheviks viewed the extreme oppression of women as an indicator of the primitive level of the whole society, but their approach was based on materialism, not moralism. They understood that the fact that women were veiled and caged, bought and sold, was but the surface of the problem. Kalym was not some sinister plot against womankind, but the institution which was central to the organisation of production, integrally connected to land and water rights.
Payment of Kalym, often by the whole clan over a long period of time, committed those involved to an elaborate system of debt, duties and loyalties which ultimately led to participation in the private armies of the local beys (landowners and wholesale merchants). All commitments were thus backed up with the threat of feuds and blood vengeance.
“… Lenin warned against prematurely confronting respected native institutions, even when these clearly violated communist principles and Soviet law. Instead he proposed to use the Soviet state power to systematically undermine them while simultaneously demonstrating the superiority of Soviet institutions, a policy which had worked well against the powerful Russian Orthodox Church.”

“But at the January 1924 Party conference, which preceded the 13th Party congress, the leadership, programme and methods of the party changed decisively. In an ominous prelude to the policies of the ‘third period’ such as the forced collectivisation of agriculture, the legal offensive against traditional practices in Central Asia was stepped up until the divorce rate assumed epidemic proportions
‘…Then on 8 March 1927, in celebration of International Woman’s Day, mass meetings were held at which thousands of frenzied participants, chanting ‘down with the paranja!’ tore off their veils which were drenched in paraffin and burned. Poems were recited and plays with names such as ‘Away with the Veil’ and ‘Never again Kalym’ were performed. Zhenotdel agitators led marches of unveiled women through the streets, instigating the forced desegregation of public quarters and sanctified religious sites’
Brutal Stalinist methods
The consequences of these brutal Stalinist methods were the same in 1927, 28 and 29 as they were in Afghanistan sixty years later:
‘Women suing for divorce became the targets of murderous vigilante squads, and lynchings of party cadres annihilated the ranks of the Zhenotdel. The Party was forced to mobilise the militia, then the Komsomolsk and finally the general party membership and the Red Army to protect the women, but it refused to alter its suicidal policies. The debacle of International Woman’s Day was repeated in 1928 and 1929 with the same disastrous consequences, exacting an extremely high toll on party cadre.’

radicalfeministquotes: jewish resistance women, warsaw ghetto uprising, may 1943. always resist. never forget. I’m on a Jewish kick right now.

Jewish resistance women, warsaw ghetto uprising, may 1943., always resist.never forget.

The best results against fundamentalism were achieved by women revolutionaries of the Zhenotdel using the transitional method of Bolshevism, as Dale Ross describes. The Afghan 1978 coupists were no revolutionaries, had no knowledge of and did not want to know about the methods of Marxist revolutionaries. They feared the consequences of utilising such tactics and were utterly opposed to them. They preferred their own bureaucratic ‘suicidal policies’, as Dale Ross says above.
The Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) have this observation to make on the role of US Imperialism in Afghanistan,

“It is hard to fathom the pivotal role the United States played in nourishing a violent, fundamentalist mentality in generations of young Afghans. But starting in the 1980s, the U.S. government spent more than $50 million to publish textbooks through the University of Nebraska that promoted a fanatic, militaristic agenda. In a March 2002 article, the Washington Post called it the “Jihad Schoolbook Scandal,” describing the books as “filled with talk of jihad” and warlike images. It taught children to count using “illustrations of tanks, missiles and landmines.”

The books were shipped into Soviet-occupied Afghanistan to fuel a jihad against the Soviets, but, according to the Post, they made up the core curriculum in the Afghan school system long after the Soviets had been defeated. “Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.” And after the Taliban was gone, USAID continued to send the textbooks into Afghanistan, where fundamentalists still use them to teach a violent brand of Islam.”

Despite disagreements with the RAWA this highlights the role of Imperialism in promoting Islamic fundamentalism whenever it is in their interests, be it in Afghanistan in the early 1980s or in Libya and Syria in 2011-12.
Female genital mutilation
The United Nations have conducted a long campaign against female genital mutilation but, of course, defends the global social order that ensure its continuation. Here they explain the outlook of the men who demand its implementation:

“Genital cutting is seen as a way of ensuring that a woman is clean, chaste, and ready for marriage; uncut women are associated with promiscuity and lack of social respectability. Deadening the woman’s sexual pleasure is a way of guaranteeing her virginity and fidelity. Because it is a valued social rite, most girls are willing to succumb to the pain and the subsequent health problems. But whether they wish to be excised or not, the choice is not theirs. Living in a staunchly patriarchal world, they are dependent on men for social and economic survival. As a father from the Ivory Coast told the New York Times, “If your daughter has not been excised. . . . No man in the village will marry her. It is an obligation. We have done it, we do it, and we will continue to do it. . . . She has no choice. I decide. Her viewpoint is not important.””

We can see from the phrase “they are dependent on men for social and economic survival” that it is the relations of production in these rural villages that perpetrate this barbaric custom. The law of combined and uneven development as outlined by Trotsky finds its expression in this terrible area. It is part of the bride price custom as is in Afghanistan and all over the African/South Asian region.
It regards the woman as the private property of her father (and men in general) to be sold to her new husband. It is bound up with all those local customs and tribal laws that sustain the local economy and which grow ever more bitter and demanding as capital penetrates every aspect of life. Here the growing of food for family consumption, the subsistence economy, is continually replaced by growing cash crops for export to redress ‘balance of payment deficits’ imposed by the IMF and the WTO in the first place.
A great number of nominally sovereign states have no real autonomy or effective sovereignty in their economic relations with the world market. These semi-colonies, beginning with India, pursued a version of the Soviet planned economy after WWII, with import substitution and subsidies to native industries because they were conscious that reliance on primary produce left them vulnerable to the world market where the price of primary produce was relative inelastic. That is the metropolitan consumers would only drink so much tea and coffee, and require so much clothing and footwear no matter how cheap. And overproduction inevitable led to a drop in the price.
The infant industries in these countries needed tariff barriers in the beginning to compete on the world market. The IMF allowed the Asian tigers to do that as a bulwark against communism, but the rest of the world, Latin America, Africa and South Asia faced a few major huge crises like 1973.

World crisis in the international economy and the huge hike in oil prices had severe consequences for the semi-colonial world. Many became effectively bankrupt and world Imperialism bailed them out with their brutal structural adjustment programmes which destroyed for a generation their ability to plan anything in their own economy and left them at the mercy of the free market wolves.
The triumph of neo-liberalism with the fall of the USSR in 1991 opened the door for the present sub-prime crises, now engulfing the whole world. Women bear the brunt of this crisis, and female genital mutilation is the village expression of how the patriarchal society survive economically. The combination of economic liberation of a global socialist revolution and then the ideological methods of struggle of the early Bolsheviks is how to combat this, not the bogus, ‘rights’ campaigns of the UN which brings increasing oppressions in its wake.

10,000 Women
Conclusion, Goldman Sachs’ “10,000 Women”
Goldman Sachs have a “10,000 Women” programme to educate and promote this number of women to be entrepreneurs in Africa. “Female education is a driver of macroeconomic growth” in Uganda they tell us while they rip the heart and soul out of Africa economically. And they, and their transnational corporation comrades, reap the lion’s share of the profits from Africa and South Asia.
According as every part of the globe is drawn into the vortex of the finance capital’s neo-liberal nightmare the contradictions like women’s oppression, famine and extreme impoverishment grow ever worse. The World Health Organization estimates it will take a minimum of ten years to reduce the prevalence of genital mutilation, and three generations to eradicate it.

They make similar projections about clean water, disease and poverty in general. These projections are lies and distortions, global capitalism can only promise wealth and a future to their own ‘entrepreneurs’ like:

“Rosalie Mukangenzi, the owner of a successful flour mill… With a micro-loan, she started a charcoal business, but in 2008, she moved into milling flour since she thought it could be more profitable. Before the 10,000 Women program, she had only felt comfortable taking small loans, but after graduating, she had the skills and confidence to take on more debt to expand her business. She opened a retail store, hired more employees (when I visited her in 2010, she employed fourteen men and three women), and increased her sales four-fold. She has built a new home for her family, which she plans on using as collateral for her next loan application.

“My dream is to own a big factory, one which can impact the social and economic development of Rwanda,” she told me. Of course, many successful entrepreneurs flourish without formal business training, but Rosalie and thousands of other women around the world have bigger ambitions, and more skills to meet them, thanks to 10,000 Women.”

These are pipe dreams, obscene versions of the American dream for the billions in the semi-colonial world. It will never happen as long as these material conditions prevail. World Imperialism, whose agents the UN and the WHO are, will never organise its overthrow, that task belongs to the revolutionary workers organisations, the Fourth International when it is reconstructed. That is the prime task we must all set ourselves on this International Women’s Day, 8 March 2012.
[1] TRUSTLAW POLL- Afghanistan is most dangerous country for women, http://www.trust.org/trustlaw/news/trustlaw-poll-afghanistan-is-most-dangerous-country-for-women
[2] Tamale, Sylvia. African Sexualities: A Reader. Fahamu/Pambazuka, 2011, pp. 19–20, 78, 89–90.
[3] Refers to the academic movement linked to Pax Romana – the international federation of Catholic intellectuals, one of the oldest international lay Catholic movements. It was created in two stages: in 1921 IMCS/MIEC (the student movement) and 1947 ICMICA/MIIC (academic movement) as a response of Catholic university lecturers and students to the need to build a peaceful world after experience of two world wars. Its name, which refers to the peace existing in the days of Christ, this movement has received in 1921 from Pope Benedict XV.
[4] Introduction to Killing Hope, http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Blum/KHIntroNew_uned_WBlum.html
[5] This section is taken from Gerry Downing’s 1997 Document Afghanistan, Marxist method vs. Bureaucratic method, http://www.scribd.com/doc/67406622/Afghanistan-Marxist-Method-vs-Bureaucratic-method-By-Gerry-Downing-1997

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