Workers Vanguard No. 947
20 November 2009
For Free Abortion on Demand! For Free, Quality Health Care for All!
U.S. Imperialism: Enemy of Womens Rights
For Womens Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
Women’s right to abortion, having been chipped away for decades, is under renewed assault. On November 7, the House of Representatives passed a health care “reform” bill that would prevent millions of Americans from buying insurance that covers abortions. It is the most dramatic victory for anti-abortion bigots since the grossly misnamed “partial birth abortion ban” was passed by Congress six years ago.
House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi authorized a vote on the anti-abortion provision, and it was inserted into the “reform” bill, after a lobbying blitz by Catholic bishops. It would effectively ban abortion coverage in private health insurance plans offered on the insurance “exchanges” that would be created under the bill. Meanwhile, enforcement of an Illinois law requiring doctors to notify a parent when a woman 17 or younger seeks an abortion was temporarily blocked by a court suit early this month. This law represents a grave threat to the right of teens to abortion in the Midwest; such parental notification laws are already being implemented in states neighboring Illinois.
We print below, edited for publication, an October 10 forum given in the Bay Area by Amy Rath, editor of the Women and Revolution pages of Spartacist (English-language edition).
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Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the U.S. bourgeois press has been full of stories about the horrors of life for women in that country. This has nothing to do with protecting women and everything to do with lining up support for the U.S. imperialist intervention. More recently we have been hearing about the plight of women in not only the Taliban-controlled areas, but also under the regime of the corrupt and discredited U.S. ally, President Hamid Karzai. We are told that Afghanistan’s maternal and infant mortality rates are among the highest in the world, that schoolgirls get doused with acid and that female politicians are shot or threatened with beheading for daring to work outside the home—all this, and much worse, is true.
The bourgeoisie’s counterfeit concern about the plight of women is a cynical and cruel bandying of empty words in the service of support for the aims of U.S. imperialism. The main enemy of the Afghan people is American imperialism! Our starting point is proletarian class opposition to the U.S. capitalist rulers and to the imperialist system as a whole. In the lead-up to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq we called for the military defense of these countries, without giving any political support to the reactionary, woman-hating Taliban cutthroats or the capitalist dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Today, insofar as the forces on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan aim their blows against the imperialist occupiers, we call for their military defense against imperialism, without giving them any political support. All U.S./NATO troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now! Hands off Pakistan!
This story goes back 30 years, to when the United States initiated what was then the largest CIA operation in its history to support the forefathers of the Taliban. The mujahedin had launched a guerrilla war against the government of the left-nationalist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which had sought to implement a program for redistributing land, lowering the bride price, educating women and freeing them from the head-to-toe burqa. Responding to repeated requests by the embattled PDPA regime, the Soviet Union intervened in December 1979. For genuine Trotskyists, there was no question which side working people and the oppressed the world over had in this conflict. The threat of a CIA-backed Islamic takeover on the USSR’s southern flank posed pointblank the need for unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union, a bureaucratically degenerated workers state. The Soviet intervention also opened up the possibility of social liberation for the Afghan masses, particularly women. We said: Hail Red Army! Extend social gains of October Revolution to Afghan peoples!
Under the Soviet military umbrella, the Afghan government began mass literacy campaigns and provided medical care. Over 300,000 peasants received land. By the late 1980s, half of all university students in Afghanistan were women, and women made up 40 percent of the country’s doctors, 70 percent of its teachers and 30 percent of its civil servants. Women in the workforce had increased 50-fold, and 15,000 women served as soldiers and commanders in the Afghan army. The London Guardian online (30 September 2001) quoted Saira Noorani, a female surgeon who left Kabul in 2001: “‘Life was good under the Soviets,’ Saira said. ‘Every girl could go to high school and university. We could go wherever we wanted and wear what we liked.... Since then everything has been a long dark night’.”
But for much of the left, support for the Democratic Party at home and for anti-Communism abroad has been at the core of their program. With few exceptions, the reformist “socialists” all howled with the imperialists in demanding Soviet troops out of Afghanistan in the 1980s. We were alone on the left internationally in hailing the Red Army in Afghanistan.
The International Socialist Organization (ISO) and its then-parent group in Britain demanded: “Troops Out of Afghanistan!” (Socialist Worker [Britain], 12 January 1980). The Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party likewise condemned the Soviet intervention. To justify siding with the reactionary mujahedin and their imperialist patrons, the reformist left invoked the lie of “poor little Afghanistan” and screamed about the national rights of the country being trampled by “Soviet imperialism.” In fact, even if Afghanistan were a nation, the question of its national self-determination would have been subordinated to the overriding class and social questions—defense of the Soviet Union and the struggle for women’s rights and social progress in Afghanistan.
Just across the border, Soviet Central Asia had once been exactly like Afghanistan—a miserably backward, desolate and benighted place, in fact not a nation but a patchwork of tribes and peoples. But in the 1920s, Soviet power came to Central Asia. To be sure, even the most powerful government cannot decree social advancement—it must be built. In 50 years, Soviet Central Asia had moved forward ten centuries because it had been transformed from a backward, tribal area by the socialized, planned economy of the USSR.
Why We Defended the Soviet Union
Upon coming to power in 1917, the Bolsheviks put into practice a number of crucial measures to begin the liberation of women. They made marriage and divorce simple matters of civil registration, entirely independent of the reactionary Russian Orthodox church, as part of an early decree giving women equal rights with men. Insofar as the poverty of the country allowed, they established communal kitchens, laundries and childcare centers to free women from the drudgery of housework—measures that sought to bring women into the workforce and into political life and lay the basis for replacing the family with socialized alternatives.
They abolished all laws regarding consensual sexual relations (laws against sodomy, adultery, homosexuality) because they thought the state had no business interfering in private sexual matters. In 1919, the Communist Party created the Department of Working Women and Peasant Women, or Zhenotdel, to organize special work among women, which included building over 25,000 literacy schools and donning the veil to reach the women of the Muslim East. In 1920, abortion was made legal, free and available in state hospitals under a doctor’s care.
For the Bolsheviks, the liberation of women was an integral part of the emancipating goals of the communist program. Denouncing feminism as the tool of upper-class women seeking their own place in the male ranks of capitalist power and privilege, the Bolsheviks insisted that the place of the working woman was side by side with the working man. The proletariat as a whole must embrace the fight against women’s oppression as part of its historic task of freeing humanity from the outmoded system of private ownership and production for profit.
Marxists hold that the institution of the family is the source of the oppression of women in class society. As Friedrich Engels laid out in his classic work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884), under the “primitive communism” of the Stone Age, where a primitive equality prevailed, the division of labor between men and women derived from biology (women had to bear and nurse the young) and implied no subordinate social status. In what is now called the Neolithic Age, technological advances, particularly the development of agriculture, created for the first time a social surplus. This wealth was appropriated by a tiny minority, a ruling class, producing the division of society into classes, with a state of armed bodies of men to defend the ruling class.
The institution of the family came about first and foremost as a means to determine inheritance of private property and the power that came with it. As a means of consolidating wealth in the hands of a tiny minority, the patriarchal family decreed monogamy of women so that there was no question as to the “legitimate” heir. The biological fact of childbearing and child rearing was henceforth tied to the social oppression of women.
In the thousands of years since the advent of class society, the institution of the family has taken many different forms according to the needs of the ruling class, its economy, politics, religion and culture. In the capitalist order it serves not only as the principal mechanism of inheritance for the propertied classes, but as the means by which the next generation of wage slaves is raised. A big part of this is instilling bourgeois ideology, “morals,” and the requisite obedience to the powers that be. As such, the family is vitally necessary to the maintenance of production for profit. It will take a socialist revolution to lay the basis for the replacement of the necessary functions of the family—e.g., the raising of children—by socialized childcare, laundries, dining rooms, which will eliminate the oppression of women once and for all.
This is the future that the Bolsheviks strove for. They recognized, however, that without qualitative economic development, a fully socialist economy and the liberation of women were a utopian fantasy in backward, isolated Russia. Most importantly, they founded the Communist International with the goal of forming revolutionary proletarian parties and fighting for revolution, especially in the advanced industrial countries, like Germany.
In The Revolution Betrayed (1936), Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky explained that from the beginning the Bolsheviks recognized that “the real resources of the state did not correspond to the plans and intentions of the Communist Party. You cannot ‘abolish’ the family; you have to replace it. The actual liberation of women is unrealizable on a basis of ‘generalized want.’ Experience soon proved this austere truth which Marx had formulated eighty years before.”
The gains made by women in the Soviet Union are one of the reasons why we Trotskyists stood for unconditional military defense of the USSR against imperialist threats and internal counterrevolution. Stalin turned back the clock on many of the gains of women—for example, abortion was made illegal in 1936—but the enormous power of the planned economy remained. Despite its Stalinist bureaucratic degeneration, the Soviet workers state was able to provide all with a job, housing, health care and education. These are among the social gains that we called for the Soviets to introduce to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
We warned from the outset that the Kremlin bureaucracy, in its quest for “peaceful coexistence” with U.S. imperialism, might cut a deal at the expense of the Afghan peoples. When the Soviet forces completed their pullout from Afghanistan in early 1989, paving the way for a bloody onslaught against Afghan workers, women and leftists, we bitterly denounced this betrayal while the reformist left cheered. The ISO said: “We welcome the defeat of the Russians in Afghanistan.” But the Red Army was not defeated militarily in Afghanistan. The Soviet withdrawal in 1988-89 was a political betrayal by the Stalinist bureaucracy under Mikhail Gorbachev. Objectively, the Soviet intervention had cut against the grain of the nationalist Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country.” Gorbachev’s betrayal flowed from the whole outlook of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which subordinated the interests of the international proletariat in an attempt to defend its own privileged position as a parasitic layer resting on the collectivized economy, thus undermining the defense of the Soviet workers state itself. We fought for a proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and return the Soviet Union to the Bolshevik internationalism of Lenin and Trotsky.
The Soviet bureaucracy’s attempt to trade Afghan blood for good will in Washington only whetted the appetites of the imperialists, intent upon the counterrevolutionary destruction of the entire Soviet Union. Inside the USSR, this move strengthened pro-capitalist forces. The Red Army pullout from Afghanistan was directly linked to the final collapse of the USSR itself, a monumental defeat for the working class and oppressed internationally. The Stalinist bureaucracy had so besmirched the great ideals of communism with betrayals, murder, bureaucratic distortions and lies that by 1991-92 the working class was passive in the face of the revolution’s undoing and the restoration of capitalism under Boris Yeltsin.
The counterrevolution in East Europe and the Soviet Union was immediately a direct blow to women in every country. East Germany, for example, had probably the highest status for women in the world. Following capitalist counterrevolution, millions of working women were thrown out on the streets, forced back to the nursery and the kitchen when the state-owned factories were destroyed in the wake of the capitalist reunification of Germany.
The subjugation of women in underdeveloped countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and India is not rooted in some uniquely reactionary quality of Islam or Hinduism, but rather in social backwardness, which is also fostered and enforced by the imperialist powers. In early modern Europe the rise of capitalist property relations and the Enlightenment profoundly undermined backward feudal social relations rooted in an economy based on the rule of a landholding aristocracy. The French Revolution of 1789-93 is the most powerful example of the progressive, revolutionary role of the young bourgeoisie in sweeping away the ancient feudal order.
To generalize and simplify a complex history over several centuries: the earlier medieval power of the church was constrained, the landholding aristocracy was largely destroyed—and the status of women improved over time through industrial development and social struggle. Among the toiling masses, the family was no longer based primarily on labor-intensive peasant agriculture, but on the wage slavery of industrial production.
But in areas like the Near East and South Asia, capitalism arrived belatedly—and it arrived with European colonialism, which allied itself with the local feudal powers. Imperialist penetration blocked the path of social and economic development. Thus the religions of the East did not have to adapt in the same way as did Christianity (or Judaism), and anti-woman barbarism has remained correspondingly more profound and overt. This is an example of what the utopian socialist Charles Fourier meant when he said that the condition of women serves as a hallmark of overall emancipation in any society.
The capitalist system has long outlived its progressive role and is now the main impediment to the forward march of human emancipation. The development of advanced industrial economies and parliamentary democracy in the West was accompanied by, and to a large extent based on, the brutal exploitation of the colonial countries. The imperialists’ subjugation of the “Third World” requires that they prop up their local puppets, who maintain and reinforce the indigenous forces of social and cultural reaction, as the U.S. does in Afghanistan.
To achieve social and national emancipation in the neocolonial world requires the seizure of power by the proletariat, standing at the head of all the oppressed and led by internationalist revolutionary vanguard parties. As Trotsky stressed in advancing the perspective of permanent revolution, only proletarian revolution can break the imperialist yoke over such countries and—with the workers’ seizure of power in the advanced capitalist countries—end imperialism forever. Trotsky noted in a 1924 speech to the Communist University for Toilers of the East, “There will be no better communist in the East, no better fighter for the ideas of the revolution and for the ideas of communism than the awakened woman worker.”
Today, after capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, the key to the social liberation of the peoples of Afghanistan and the region is in the proletariat of countries like Pakistan, Iran, India and the former Soviet Central Asian republics. Afghanistan also shares a border with the People’s Republic of China—and this is of no little account in the appetites of the United States for a military presence in the area. A key strategy of the imperialists today is the counterrevolutionary crusade to restore capitalist rule in China.
The overthrow of capitalism and the achievement of a collectivized economy in China, established as a result of the 1949 Revolution, were a huge step forward for the Chinese masses, not least its women. We defend the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state unconditionally against counterrevolution from abroad or internally, and call for a proletarian political revolution there to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy and bring the program of socialist internationalism to power.
Domestic Consequences of the Anti-Soviet War Drive
Late last summer, the New York Times magazine (23 August) ran a special issue entitled “Saving the World’s Women.” I knew the minute I set eyes on it that it would be full of lies and hypocrisy, all aiming to dress up U.S. imperialism as a force for good around the world. The new supposed vehicle for global women’s rights is cheap loans—microfinance and microlending programs—passing out a few dollars so that women can start an embroidery business or some such. After making their profits off the labor of the exploited, the capitalists will now drop a few pennies on their way to the bank. Disgusting.
In an interview in the Times magazine titled “A New Gender Agenda,” Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who is pitched as an “ambassador” of women’s rights, speaks these true words: “Women die every minute from poor maternal health care. You know, H.I.V./AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria—those are all, unfortunately, equal-opportunity killers. Maternal health is a woman’s issue; it’s a family issue; it’s a child issue.” A few miles away from Clinton’s elegant Washington office lie the impoverished ghettos where the black masses of the capital live. But we don’t hear these statistics: One in five American children live in poverty, the highest rate in the industrialized West. Nearly eleven million have no health insurance. Hundreds of thousands are in foster care. More than 1.5 million are homeless. The infant mortality rates in the inner cities of Washington, D.C., New Haven, East St. Louis and Chicago rival that of Malaysia.
This is attributable to the lack of health care available to poor women as well as their generalized poverty. The U.S. has the widest gap in the entire world in the standard of living between rich and poor. It’s virtually the only developed country that has no universal medical coverage. Obama’s proposed health care package promises a level of care not much above a pledge to pick up the dead bodies, in order to massively cut health care costs. The budget will be balanced largely by taxing the hard-won health care plans of unionized workers and slashing Medicare payments. Restoring the profitability and competitive edge of U.S. imperialism, where health care costs are the highest and the health of the population the worst in the advanced industrialized countries, is the reality behind the “health care reform” game.
Hillary Clinton certainly voiced no concern about the status of women in the U.S. To oppressed black women in the hell that is the American ghettos, Clinton, her boss, Barack Obama, and the Democratic Party preach the standard mythology of the American ruling class that if you’re poor and haven’t made it, it’s your own fault. You should pull yourself up by your bootstraps and earn a decent standard of living. The lie of the “post-racial” America can be joined by the lie of the post-sexist America.
The Bourgeoisie’s Assault on Abortion Rights
In his speech to the joint session of Congress on September 9, Obama was explicit in his disavowal of defending the rights of women and immigrants in his health care reform proposal: “The reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally. And one more misunderstanding I want to clear up...no federal dollars will be used to fund abortions, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.”
Ever since the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, the basic democratic right of legal abortion has been under attack. As revolutionary communists, we defend every gain that’s been won for the exploited and oppressed. Abortion is a politically explosive issue because it raises the question of the equality of women. Providing women with some control over whether or not to have children, abortion is viewed as a threat to the institution of the family.
The arsenal of legal measures on the federal as well as the state level has made abortion virtually inaccessible to a large number of women. Thirty-eight states prohibit abortions after a specified point in pregnancy. Fully 35 states require one or both parents of women under 18 to be notified and/or consent to an abortion. Some 87 percent of U.S. counties and 31 percent of metropolitan areas have no abortion services. Abortion clinics are now outnumbered by “crisis pregnancy centers”—fake clinics set up by anti-abortion groups whose purpose is to subject pregnant women to anti-abortion propaganda and otherwise pressure them to carry the fetus to term. According to the Nation, some 4,000 of these centers have received over $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds.
On May 31 the bloody war against women’s right to abortion waged by “right to life” terrorists claimed yet another life. Dr. George Tiller—one of only three doctors whose clinics provide late-term abortions in the United States—was assassinated while attending his church in Wichita, Kansas. A right-wing anti-abortion bigot has been arrested in the case. Tiller himself had been a main target of the “pro-life” God squad for decades. In 1991, tens of thousands of “Operation Rescue” fanatics blockaded his clinic for six weeks. They campaigned—successfully—to have him prosecuted; boycotted his suppliers; tailed him with hidden cameras; branded him “Tiller the baby killer”; hit him with lawsuits, legislation and regulatory complaints; and protested relentlessly, even at his church. Some sent death threats. One bombed his clinic. Another tried to kill him in 1993, firing five shots, wounding him in both arms.
In Tiller’s own words: “Make no mistake, this battle is about self-determination by women of the direction and course of their lives and their family’s lives. Abortion is about women’s hopes and dreams. Abortion is a matter of survival for women.” His commitment to this fight is best exemplified by his statement, “If a stake has to be driven through the heart of the anti-abortion movement, I want to have my hand on the hammer.” We honor Dr. George Tiller, who was murdered for his courageous stand for women’s rights.
Tiller is the eighth person murdered in this anti-abortion, “family values” onslaught since 1993. On September 1 the Washington Post reported that doctors trained in and practicing abortion are becoming extinct in the U.S. There is a justifiable fear of the high probability that they and their families, friends, co-workers would be subjected to harassment, violence and death.
Anti-Abortion Laws: Weapon of Church and State
The regulation of abortion and contraception has historically been a powerful weapon in the hands of organized religion and the state. Even the most cursory examination of the laws, going back thousands of years, about miscarriage, abortion, contraception and the like, shows that they are integrally related to the institution of the family. Laws from ancient Egypt to Sumer to Rome were concerned with abortion and contraception, mainly to defend a man’s right to have children and heirs. In Eve’s Herbs: A History of Contraception and Abortion in the West, John Riddle traces the development of the religious and legal attitudes toward contraception and abortion (though some of his conclusions on pre-industrial contraception and abortion techniques are controversial). He says, for example, “Deliberate abortion in the Old Testament is not mentioned, only injury by a third party resulting once again in a man being denied progeny he sired. And, in keeping with the same principles, no compensation is due the women injured. Hebrew law protected the family and the position of the father as its ruling head. According to Talmudic interpretation, the fetus was the property of the father.”
Modern abortion laws show how social and legal institutions changed to reflect the interests of the capitalist class. In 1803 the Ellenborough Act was the advent of abortion as a statutory crime in the English-speaking world. The preoccupations of the ruling class with this law and others following it are revealed as protecting the male’s right to heirs, punishing (especially single) women for illicit sex and protecting population growth. More children must be born for the growth of the capitalist nation-state, its army and working population.
From Carter to Reagan: Resurgence of the Religious Right
The source of anti-woman bigotry in the U.S. is not the particular capitalist party in power—whether Democratic or Republican—but the capitalist order that breeds oppression and bigotry as a necessary corollary to its system of exploitation. The emergence of the religious right in the late 1970s as the ideological leaders of the anti-sex witchhunt was integrally tied to the overall political and economic interests of U.S. imperialism at the time. Coming to office in 1977, the Democratic Carter administration kicked off an onslaught of domestic social reaction and a renewal of U.S. imperialism’s Cold War drive to destroy the Soviet Union, garbed in the call for “human rights.” The CIA’s war in Afghanistan was a key part of this.
Carter’s domestic policies reflected the attempt of the American ruling class to overcome widespread fear and loathing of the government following the explosive years of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the rise of the New Left, the women’s liberation movement and black radicalization, and finally the Watergate break-in that forced the resignation of Republican president Richard Nixon in 1974. For the American bourgeoisie, this all-sided social turmoil and defiance of authority were deeply disturbing, and the potential for an alliance of black militants and radicalized students with an increasingly restive labor movement was a threat that had to be stopped. Thus a major bourgeois ideological assault was launched to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome” and to instill an unquestioning acceptance of “free enterprise,” God and “family values,” including the desirability of dying for one’s country.
The Carter administration brought “born again” religious fundamentalism front and center into the White House. This was the national backdrop for an anti-sex witchhunt that cut a very wide swath: not only abortion was targeted but gay rights—for example, Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” anti-gay campaign of hate. Roman Polanski was first arrested at this time in the still ongoing 30-year witchhunt of this man. Under Reagan, all this rolled into a vicious persecution of AIDS patients, while day-care workers were targeted and jailed as “child molesters” in hysterical allegations of “satanic ritual abuse.”
As communists we oppose attempts to fit human sexuality into legislated or decreed so-called “norms.” The guiding principle for sexual relations between people should be that of effective consent—that is, nothing more than mutual agreement and understanding as opposed to coercion. All consensual relations are purely the concern of the individuals involved, and the state has no business interfering in human sexual activity.
Our party intervened heavily into the 1970s movement for abortion rights, dominated by the Socialist Workers Party’s front group, WONAAC, which in tried-and-true reformist fashion kept its “single-issue” campaign within the political limits acceptable to Democrats. In sharp contrast, we fought for a program of women’s liberation through socialist revolution and pointed out that without the means to pay, “choice” is no choice. The wealthy will always get their medical care and their abortions, while the myriad anti-abortion laws target young, working-class and poor women, who can’t afford quality health care, childcare and housing. We raised the call for free abortion on demand as part of free, quality health care for all and free, 24-hour childcare to address the deep race and class oppression of poor and minority women.
In 1991, when Operation Rescue launched its “Summer of Mercy,” we participated in clinic defense actions across the country. At the same time, we criticized the feminists and the reformist left for calling for government defense of abortion facilities and for more “pro-choice” capitalist politicians and Supreme Court judges. We have always emphasized that only the power of social struggle, particularly by the organized labor movement, can force the capitalist class into actions it would prefer to avoid. We called for mass mobilizations, bolstered by the power of labor, to defend the clinics and make a show of strength in support of women’s rights.
But when Bill Clinton became president in 1993—another one of those Democrats who think abortion is a tragedy that should be rare—well, then, the feminists dusted off their hands and went home, because he passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994. Let me point out two things that happened during Clinton’s eight years in office that massively affected women: safe access to abortion was gutted as the number of abortion providers plummeted 14 percent between 1992 and 1996, and a huge number of laws chipping away abortion rights, including parental consent regulations targeting teenagers, were passed. And Clinton ended “welfare as we know it,” gutting welfare benefits in an assault against poor and black women and their children.
Today, various feminist and leftist organizations are again raising defense of the clinics in the aftermath of the killing of George Tiller. But it’s the same reformist game here. Operation Rescue has targeted a clinic in Nebraska for harassment. Says a spokesperson for the National Organization For Women (NOW): “As we prepare to stand in peaceful support of women’s rights in Nebraska, we know that every clinic in the United States is a potential target. I call on the Obama administration to respond to this threat using the strongest means possible, to prosecute the criminals, their funders and their co-conspirators, and to protect every provider, worker and patient across this nation.”
NOW makes no pretense to being a socialist organization, so it’s consistent that they call on the government—the very agency whose job it is to enforce the social order that breeds oppression—to defend women’s rights. But ostensible socialists are supposed to stand for something else. Yet the Socialist Workers Party’s Militant (7 September), writing on the Nebraska action, quotes without a word of criticism another passage from that very same NOW statement I just read you.
“Fight the Right and Stand Up for Choice,” says the ISO’s Socialist Worker (29 September). This is a blatant appeal to the Democratic Party, the “right” being the Republicans. In their theoretical journal, International Socialist Review (July-August 2009), they have an article titled: “Defending Abortion Rights: On the Need for a New Movement.” A classless “grassroots” movement is the ISO’s answer to everything. In this case they are presented with a bit of a problem: the first main point in the article is to “prove” that there is no anti-abortion movement of religious bigots. The ISO calls the anti-abortion crusade “smoke and mirrors.” I wish it was.
You can’t expect an organization that cheered the capitalist counterrevolution in the USSR to understand the profound roots in the capitalist order of this anti-woman crusade. The ISO does not believe in the ability of the working class to defend women’s rights any more than in its ability to overthrow the capitalist order, found its own government and establish a planned, collectivized economy. Today the ISO is even printing contributions to a debate: “Should the left call for Taliban victory?” They can see supporting the Taliban—but the Red Army, never.
Clinics closing, doctors and staff killed, abortion rights massively losing support among an increasingly religious population—it’s a depressing spectacle. What about mobilizing the power of the labor movement to defend women’s rights? It’s a fine idea, and we’re for it. But the pro-capitalist bureaucrats in the unions have notoriously remained silent on abortion rights—indeed any rights—for women. And these days they can’t even defend their own members’ wages—witness UAW president Gettelfinger giving away the store to the GM bosses. Why? It’s political. The union bureaucrats uphold the partnership of capital and labor and preach reliance on “lesser evil” politicians. But we Marxists know that the proletariat and the bourgeoisie are irreconcilable enemies in the basic functioning of the economy and in the historic interests of the emancipation of the human race. Workers can win even the most basic reforms and even the most basic defensive struggles only through hard class combat.
Let’s make it concrete. Take a look at the company that everyone loves to hate: Wal-Mart, the world’s largest profit-making enterprise. The immediate thought that might come to your mind of the connection between Wal-Mart and the status of women would, no doubt, be the ongoing class action suit brought by some 1.6 million women employees against the anti-union behemoth. But the connection goes far deeper than the company’s discrimination against women employees and its grotesque corporate culture of repulsive male chauvinism. There’s a very interesting book, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise, published this summer, that details the earlier history of Wal-Mart through the 1990s and its social and political links in the country. In fact—although the author certainly doesn’t share our Marxist outlook—the book reveals details proving the truth of our longstanding analysis of the genesis of the religious right in the United States. It’s a concrete illustration of the way that the bourgeoisie controls society through a million threads, weaving into the very fabric of the country.
Wal-Mart, particularly through its founder Sam Walton, was a key player in the rise of the Christian New Right in the U.S.: it funded evangelical colleges, campaigned for “family values” and free enterprise, and participated in targeting for annihilation gay rights and abortion rights as overriding “sins.” And not least, it founded a scholarship program in 1985 to combat the influence of Communism in Central America—this at the behest of the Reagan administration as it backed its blood-drenched allies like the Salvadoran dictatorship.
Wal-Mart also played a key role in the passage of the NAFTA “free trade” agreement in 1994; it was no coincidence that its first store outside the borders of the U.S. was built in Mexico City in 1993. This American “free trade” rape of Mexico was a major factor in intensifying the impoverishment of the Mexican masses. And yet the American trade-union bureaucracy denounced NAFTA on the basis of poisonous protectionism: saving “American jobs.” Meanwhile, Wal-Mart remains virulently anti-union in every country around the world. Especially in the United States, the fight to organize Wal-Mart is critical to the labor movement as a whole. But instead of waging this fight, the labor tops offer up virulent anti-Mexican chauvinism and protectionism, which posits foreign workers—not the capitalist bosses—as the enemy.
Wal-Mart is also one of the largest buyers of China’s “free market” exports. The union bureaucrats respond with China-bashing, doing double duty by pushing anti-Communism and scapegoating another “foreign enemy.” This China-bashing serves the U.S. imperialists in the counterrevolutionary crusade.
Organizing Wal-Mart would also entail taking head-on the active defense of immigrant rights and the fight for black freedom. These are crucial components of any labor struggle and are equally eschewed by a labor bureaucracy that is committed to the maintenance of the capitalist system. Today, it’s our job as Marxists to struggle to bring the fight for worldwide proletarian revolution to the working class, which necessarily means the indivisible fight for all the exploited and oppressed. In the words of Lenin, we revolutionaries seek to be “the tribune of the people...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; who is able to generalise all these manifestations and produce a single picture of police violence and capitalist exploitation; who is able to take advantage of every event, however small, in order to set forth before all his socialist convictions and his democratic demands, in order to clarify for all and everyone the world-historic significance of the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat.”
Karl Marx’s classic definition of communism is “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”—that is our goal. The woman question is a very powerful lens through which to see this goal. We are for a society where everyone can fulfill their potential in a materially abundant world where want puts no limits on human development. In this world, a woman will be able to have children (or not) with the full support of society, including contraception, abortion, childcare, medical care, time off from work and every other thing she might need.
We are a very long way from that day. But I hope that by putting it in the context of the international situation and the broader struggle for human liberation that you have a perspective beyond the immediate horizon. We are in a trough right now where the class struggle is mainly on the side of the class enemy, conditioned by the world-historic defeat in the capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union. But there’s one thing you can be sure of: it will change. And when the working class again begins to flex its muscle and to move onto the stage of history, we revolutionaries will be there, fighting for the program of communist revolution. We Trotskyists fight to build a multiracial vanguard party of the type built by the Bolshevik leaders Lenin and Trotsky, which led the world’s first socialist revolution in October 1917. In a communist future, women will be fully and equally integrated into society, and anti-woman violence and bigotry, the reactionary constraints of family and religion, and the repressive role of the capitalist state will all be but barbaric memories of the past.