Workers Vanguard No. 897
31 August 2007
Mexico City: Right-Wing Reaction Against Abortion Reform
Free Abortion on Demand!
No Illusions in Bourgeois PRD!
For Womens Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
(Women and Revolution pages)
We reprint below an excerpted article translated from Espartaco No. 28 (Summer 2007), published by our comrades of the Grupo Espartaquista de México.
On April 24, the Legislative Assembly of Mexico City, dominated by the PRD [Party of the Democratic Revolution], voted to change the citys legal codes to allow abortion on demand, an elementary democratic right, in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This not only gives the city the most liberal laws on abortion in Latin America outside of Cuba and Puerto Rico, but, by providing it in public hospitals free to city residents, makes abortion far more accessible than in the U.S. and most of Europe.
Some researchers estimate that in Latin America and the Caribbean the primary cause of death for women between the ages of 15 and 39 is complications from illegal abortions, which kill some 1,500 Mexican women each year. Abortion reform is an important gain for all women but will have particular impact on the lives of working-class, poor and young women—those who do not have the means to obtain safe abortions by traveling to other countries or paying a hefty price to have one illegally at a decent facility. Still, the law maintains penalties of three to six months in jail for women who receive an abortion after the first 12 weeks, and from one to three years of prison for those who perform it. We say: Down with all penalties! For free abortion on demand in all of Mexico! No to the 12-week limit!
As revolutionary communists, the Grupo Espartaquista de México, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist), supports this reform and every gain that has been won for women, no matter how partial. On April 19, the Juventud Espartaquista [youth group of the GEM] held a speakout at the UNAM [National Autonomous University of Mexico] Political Science school calling for Free abortion on demand! Womens liberation through socialist revolution! This was one of the very few leftist pro-abortion rights events held on campus this spring. Our comrades laid out the Marxist perspective for ending womens oppression, called on students and workers to mobilize in support of the abortion reform and warned against illusions in the PRD.
The demise of the USSR, the worlds first and most powerful workers state, has ushered in a global offensive against the living standards and basic democratic rights of the working class and the oppressed, as well as an ideological climate dominated by widespread belief in the death of communism and a resurgence of religious fanaticism. Where abortion rights exist, as in the U.S.—ruled by Bushs gang of religious fanatics—they have been under constant attack both by Republicans and Democrats, and it is increasingly hard to get an abortion, particularly for poor women.
Mexico, of course, has been no exception to this bourgeois offensive: two decades of anti-worker, neoliberal policies have devastated the standard of living of the working class. Furthermore, in the last seven years, PAN [National Action Party] rule has combined privatizing, openly pro-American-imperialist policies with right-wing, religious ideology. Recently, the country has been rocked by powerful, combative strikes as well as massive mobilizations of the working class, the poor and the oppressed demanding that their most elementary needs be addressed and defending gains won through hard-fought struggles. The bourgeoisie itself is highly polarized, and the differentiation is on social as well as economic issues. The bourgeois-nationalist PRD of [former presidential candidate Andrés Manuel] López Obrador seeks to co-opt and deactivate workers discontent through concessions. It is in this context that the abortion reform, originally drafted by the PRI [Institutional Revolutionary Party] and passed due to the PRDs support, came into being.
Abortion, which provides women with some control over whether or not to have children, is an explosive political issue. In Mexico, with the second-largest Catholic population in the world after Brazil, the medieval Catholic church has played an ever-growing political role especially since the PANs Vicente Fox took the presidency in 2000. Since it was first proposed, the reform has caused an uproar of indignation from obscurantist, right-wing forces that egg on the most violently backward layers of the population and represent a deadly threat to women, leftists, workers, gays and indigenous people.
The PAN government and the Catholic church joined hands in a reactionary, anti-woman campaign against the proposal. They ranted from the pulpits of national television, priests and nuns demonstrated in the streets of Mexico City, and there were laughable threats of excommunication by the Vatican itself. After the citys Legislative Assembly approved the reform, there was a renewed attack, now spearheaded by the grotesquely misnamed National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) and the Attorney Generals Office (PGR) to challenge the constitutionality of the new law, with the PGR arguing that an embryo is sujeto de derecho [worthy of rights]! We say: For the separation of church and state!
In supporting this reform, we place no confidence whatsoever in the PRD or the PRI, which are as much parties of capital as the PAN. Reforms under capitalism are not only partial but reversible. The oppression of women is a necessary part of capitalism and can be uprooted not through reforms but only through the revolutionary overthrow of the system of exploitation based on private property. We fight to build a Leninist-Trotskyist proletarian party to lead the struggle for a socialist revolution that would begin to lay the basis for the genuine emancipation of women together with the emancipation of the working class and all of the oppressed.
Material Basis of Womens Oppression
Marxists view the institution of the family, a necessary component of the regime of private property, as the main source of the special oppression of women. The family is not an immutable, timeless institution but a social relation subject to historical change. Ancient hunter-gatherer society was one of equality between men and women, where the necessary division of labor, based on womens childbearing role, entailed no subordination by sex and where lineage was traced through the mother. In the classic The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), Friedrich Engels (using information available at the time) traced the origin of the institution of the family and the state to the division of society into classes. The development of technology—agriculture, metallurgy, domestication of animals and other revolutionary advances—allowed for a surplus beyond what was necessary for the minimal subsistence that characterized hunter-gatherer societies, making possible the existence of an idle ruling class. The state arose to ensure the dominance of that ruling class by force. The centrality of the family flowed from its role in the inheritance of property along the male line, which required the womans sexual monogamy and social subordination. Engels describes the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property as the world-historic defeat of the female sex.
Capitalist society is divided into two principal classes: the bourgeoisie that owns the means of production and the proletariat that sells its labor power to create wealth and keep society running. For the working masses and the poor who have no wealth to pass on to new generations, the family serves to feed and clothe the workers and raise the next generation. Engels notes, The modern individual family is based on the overt or covert domestic slavery of the woman; and modern society is a mass composed solely of individual families as its molecules. Still today, the institution of the family plays an economic and social role, and that is the basis of womens oppression. Thus, the struggle for womens liberation is a strategic part of the fight for socialism and can only be realized through socialist revolution.
Our perspective is not the redivision of household tasks within the family, but rather the transfer of housework altogether to the public sphere. The institution of the family as an economic unit of society cannot be abolished but must be replaced, with communal kitchens, childcare and laundries. The dictatorship of the proletariat, to the degree that it has sufficient resources at its disposal, will immediately change the material condition of women in particular, over and above the general liberating effects of the revolution, and far beyond making women and men equal in the eyes of the law.
Womens oppression is not simply a question of backward ideology and the denial of democratic rights. Male-chauvinist ideology is propagated to justify the concrete economic oppression and subjugation of women. Abortion is restricted to bolster the institution of the family, whose social role, alongside other institutions such as the church, is to teach respect for authority, act as a conservatizing force, regiment the population (especially youth) and instill a morality that proscribes anything deviating from the family ideal—from premarital sex to gay sex. Youth sexuality, even if some do not want to admit it, is a biological fact. Adolescent girls will get pregnant and need abortions. For free contraception and free abortion on demand! Down with parental consent requirements! Full democratic rights for homosexuals! We oppose age of consent laws in which the capitalist state dictates at what age one (typically women) can or cannot decide to have sex. We are against laws against crimes without victims, like consensual sex, pornography and drug use.
In Mexico, with half of the population living in poverty even by official figures, the familys stultifying influence acquires even greater significance as a means for economic survival, especially for young adults who cannot find decent jobs, for the aged trying to live on miserable pensions—if they even have one—and for women, forced to stay in marriages they dont want to be in simply because they couldnt survive on their own, especially if they have children. For free 24-hour childcare!
Women and Permanent Revolution in Mexico
In all societies, the degree of womens emancipation is an accurate indicator of general emancipation. Many aspects of the anti-woman nature of Mexican society are known throughout the world. Ciudad Juárez is infamous for the hundreds of murders of women workers; the victims are typically young and often sexually mutilated. In March, Ernestina Ascencio, a 73-year-old indigenous woman, was raped and killed by members of the Mexican army in Veracruz, and [Mexican president Felipe] Calderón had the gall to declare that she had died of gastritis. Police sexually abused and raped women arrested during the brutal occupation of the town of Atenco in May 2006.
But in large part the horrid conditions of women in Mexico do not make the headlines because it is just a matter of daily life. Violence against women occurs in 60 percent of households. Open discrimination in hiring is the norm. Women are usually relegated to the most repetitive, dangerous jobs in industry, especially in the maquiladoras [foreign-owned free trade factories]. They are subjected to degrading procedures, such as regular pregnancy tests, and earn less than men for the same work. At the same time, by being integrated into industry women gain some economic independence and have become a powerful and vibrant component of the proletariat. We say: Equal pay for equal work! Organize the unorganized!
Conditions for indigenous women in Mexico are particularly brutal and demeaning, due to the intersection of greater poverty and backward traditions. In some regions, young girls are still sold into marriage! In some cases, women do not speak to men who are not family members. Indigenous women typically live in poor peasant family homes or in urban slums. Over 34.5 percent of households in indigenous municipalities lack running water and 21.1 percent lack electricity. The illiteracy rate for women aged 15 and up living in indigenous households is an astounding 32.2 percent, while for men it is 19.4 percent; in non-indigenous households it is 6.7 percent, with a minimal sex differential.
Especially in Mexico City and other large urban centers, an important sector of the population, mainly drawn from the petty bourgeoisie, does not buy into the PANs fundamentalist Catholic ideology. Recent polls show that unlike at the national level, a larger section of the capitals population supports the abortion reform than opposes it (although by a slim margin). While some people at PRD and union demonstrations reject our paper when we point out our position on abortion, others—especially students and young women workers—will buy it precisely for that reason. We find particular receptivity among nurses, likely well aware of the results of illegal abortions, who mobilized against the dismantling of social security. In May, in a refreshing display of irreverence, a large portion of the 20,000 naked people posing in the Zócalo [main plaza in Mexico City] for Spencer Tunicks photo shoot—right in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral on a Sunday morning—chanted, ¡Norberto Rivera, el pueblo se te encuera! [(Cardinal) Norberto Rivera, the people get naked for you!].
This socially more liberal sector represents an important base of support for the PRD, and it is to them that this party appeals through the abortion reform, the sociedades de convivencia (broadly understood as gay marriage) and proposals to legalize prostitution. But illusions in the PRD as a friend of workers and the oppressed are suicidal. The capitalist class as a whole, regardless of its conjunctural postures, is opposed to free access to abortion on demand with no restrictions because it gives women some freedom from total subordination to the family structure. It is in the interest of the working class to take up the struggle against womens oppression in counterposition to the bourgeoisie.
Neocolonial Mexico is a country of combined and uneven development, where the most modern methods of capitalist production coexist with the most archaic agricultural methods and the near-total absence of infrastructure, especially but not solely in the countryside. A fundamental obstacle to making free abortion on demand a reality, not only in Mexico City but throughout the country, is the scarcity of quality health care facilities and trained personnel, aggravated now by the PAN federal governments attacks on social security. We say: Down with social security reform! Free, quality health care for all!
The material resources to fully integrate women into the productive process, to begin to lay the basis for womens emancipation, to free the peasants and indigenous people from their ancestral misery, isolation and ignorance are simply lacking and cannot be achieved short of a socialist revolution that extends internationally. In our struggle for socialist revolution, we are guided by the perspective of permanent revolution formulated by Leon Trotsky. In the imperialist epoch, the tasks associated with bourgeois-democratic revolutions (like the French Revolution of 1789), such as national emancipation, agrarian revolution and political democracy, can only be carried out by the dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasantry and the urban poor. Thus, the democratic aspirations of the masses—from the right to vote (which was trampled on by the attempted desafuero [stripping of immunity] against López Obrador and the [2006 presidential] election fraud) to the legal equality of women—are motor forces for socialist revolution. For Mexico, the overthrow of the brutal U.S. imperialist bourgeoisie by the powerful multiracial working class north of the Río Bravo will be an urgent life-and-death question. For joint class struggle in the U.S. and Mexico!
The PRD seeks to channel these just aspirations into the dead end of capitalist politics, thinly veiled with the rags of bourgeois democracy. Through bourgeois-nationalist ideology, it also seeks to blur the class divisions in society, pushing the lie that all Mexicans should stick together for the sake of the country. This is sheer deceit. Not only are the interests of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie irreconcilable, but furthermore, the weak Third World bourgeoisies are inextricably tied to their imperialist masters and are utterly incapable of breaking with them to play any revolutionary role whatsoever. At best, they seek to renegotiate the terms of their own subordination to the imperialists and in the process deactivate the struggles of the mighty proletariat. When nationalist ideology is not sufficient, the PRD does not hesitate to unleash the full repressive force of the capitalist state, as it has done many times in the past.
For a Leninist-Trotskyist Vanguard Party, Tribune of the People!
Lacking any interest in the preservation of the bourgeois order, the proletariats historic mission is one of universal emancipation. Yet in every society, the ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling class. In countries of belated capitalist development, the acute degradation of women is profoundly rooted in pre-capitalist tradition and religious obscurantism. The bulk of the Mexican proletariat today imbibes male-chauvinist ideology, anti-indigenous and anti-black racism and anti-Semitism, which the capitalists use in order to keep the working class divided and unaware of its social power and historic interests.
A Leninist-Trotskyist vanguard party—the fundamental instrument to lead the working class in a socialist revolution—can only be forged in struggle against the influence of bourgeois ideology. We fight for the working class to take up the struggle for womens rights and to stand as the leader of all the oppressed. This is an essential part of the battle against capitalism. We have no illusions that this will be easy, but it is the only way to liberate humanity from the chains of exploitation and oppression.
We reject, as did the Bolsheviks before us, the degrading conception, embraced by much of the Mexican pseudo-left, that the liberation of women is womens work; it is an integral part of our program, fought for by our entire international organization. In sharp contrast, the left adapts to machista society and often indulges in disgusting displays of backward bourgeois ideology. At our April 19 speakout, we denounced the common practice by activists in Mexico of using anti-woman and anti-gay epithets to insult government officials or right-wing reactionaries. Our public exposure of this practice by the Rebeldía UNAM student collective, among others, threw them into a rage. In a more violent reaction, a member of the fake-Trotskyist Liga de Trabajadores por el Socialismo-ContraCorriente physically attacked one of our comrades who denounced his use of a vile anti-gay epithet at the October 2 Tlatelolco demonstration in 2001.
Many youth who are outraged by the horrible oppression of indigenous people look to the Zapatistas [EZLN] for leadership. But they will not get womens liberation or anything resembling a revolution from them. During the EZLN upsurge in 1994, the Zapatistas explicitly rejected the struggle for proletarian revolution, and [EZLN leader Subcomandante] Marcos regularly rejects the legacy of Lenin. Their 1993 Revolutionary Law of Women asserts a number of elementary democratic rights for women, but according to statements by their own members during a gathering in Oventik in December 2006 and published on their official Web site, There is no policy regarding abortion in Zapatista territory.
It is no surprise then that Marcos has kept conspicuously silent in the heat of the present polarization. The EZLNs program is entirely circumscribed within the framework of capitalism and bourgeois democracy; it stands for reforms, like a new constitution, without touching the regime of private property, which is the basis of womens oppression. The Zapatistas are simply another manifestation of traditional Latin American populist nationalism with a certain base among the peasantry. Thus, necessarily, regardless of its conjunctural criticisms of the PRD, the EZLN remains in its orbit.
The idealization of traditional peasant culture and economy, as in the Zapatista caracoles [autonomous indigenous communities], means idealizing misery and backwardness and retaining the family structure. For the peasantry, the family is the economic unit of small-scale agriculture. The class interests of the peasants are based on private ownership of land, and the peasantry is incapable of reorganizing society on a collectivist basis. Their conservatizing influence can only be overcome through the leadership of the workers who participate in socialized production in industrial factories.
What is needed to put an end to the misery of indigenous people and the peasantry in general is the introduction of modern technology into the countryside: tractors, fertilizer, irrigation, along with schools, hospitals, roads and transportation. This goal can only be achieved through socialist revolution and the implementation of a collectivized, internationally planned economy.
Feminism: Bourgeois Ideology
Any struggle that does not challenge the material basis of womens oppression will not liberate women. Feminism is a bourgeois ideology that places the source of womens oppression in ideas, equating the fight for the liberation of women with the fight for womens democratic rights, i.e., for the equality of women with men under capitalism. Feminism thus opposes the possibility of liberating the masses of working women in reality, through the overthrow of the economic system that is the source of their oppression, and instead presents the main division in society as that between men and women. The goal of bourgeois feminism is to allow bourgeois and petty-bourgeois women into the male club of power and privilege, as an enemy of the proletariat.
Rejecting abortion as an elementary democratic right, popular bourgeois feminist Marta Lamas writes that we are all for abortions to come to an end; the problem is that in order to make that goal a reality there are those who think it should be penalized and others who think it should be decriminalized (quoted in La Jornada, 12 April). In the face of the reactionary anti-abortion offensive, the PRD and bourgeois feminists moralistically and defensively embrace the guilt- and fear-inducing idea that abortion is dangerous and traumatic. Performed under proper sanitary conditions and by trained personnel, abortion is actually a very simple and safe medical procedure. Much of the squeamishness over abortion comes from the idea, invented by the Catholic church, that a fetus is a human being endowed with a soul, and that abortion is thus wrong. As materialists, we reject the idea of a soul.
V.I. Lenin forged the Bolshevik Party with the understanding that the Social-Democrats ideal should not be the trade-union secretary, but the tribune of the people, who is able to react to every manifestation of tyranny and oppression, no matter where it appears, no matter what stratum or class of the people it affects [What Is To Be Done? (1902)]. We Spartacists are committed to forging such parties internationally as the fundamental levers to bring about a communist future through socialist revolutions around the world. In the struggle for new October Revolutions, Leon Trotskys words from 1924 [Perspectives and Tasks in the East] addressing the women of the East are quite applicable to Mexico and the entire semicolonial world: There will be no better communist in the East, nor better fighter for the ideas of the revolution and the ideas of communism than the awakened woman worker.