Workers Vanguard No. 916
6 June 2008
Mormon Polygamists—Leave Them Alone!
On April 3, heavily armed Texas Rangers, police agencies from six counties, the state highway patrol and wildlife officers stormed into a polygamous Mormon community in Eldorado, Texas. A phone call was the pretext for this massive raid on the Yearning for Zion Ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a long-established split-off from the mainstream Mormons. Authorities now admit this call by a woman claiming sexual abuse at the ranch was probably a hoax. Over the next seven days, more than 500 children and women were kidnapped in a state onslaught of “collective punishment.”
At least 465 of those kidnapped were under age 18 and were seized by Child Protective Services (CPS). Thirty-one women were pregnant when arrested; two have given birth while in state custody. Several of the “children” in custody are actually mothers who have had their own infants seized. All the parents were separated from their children, many sent hundreds of miles away, while the state conducted humiliating DNA tests to determine parents’ “legitimacy” to visit their children. The outrageous treatment of the Mormon families is the real abuse perpetrated here! It was so bad that even the Texas Supreme Court on May 29 upheld a prior appeals court ruling that the state had no right to seize the children. As we go to press, most of those seized are being returned to their parents.
We Marxists have a longstanding position in defense of polygamous Mormons against state persecution. We stated in “For the Right of Gay Marriage and Divorce! Marriage and the Capitalist State” (WV No. 824, 16 April 2004): “We believe the Mormons have the right to be left alone, to practice their religion and live their private lives however they see fit. Our position for the right of gay marriage, like the right of Mormons to practice polygamy, stems from our opposition to government interference with the rights of individuals to effect whatever consensual arrangements they wish.” Leave the Mormon polygamists alone!
The raid and the mass kidnapping have sparked outrage, not least in Mormon strongholds such as Salt Lake City, where 50 protested on April 24 outside an NBA playoff game between the Rockets and Jazz. As FLDS spokesman Rod Parker said, “I think every American needs to be very fearful of what Child Protective Services is doing in Texas.” Mental health workers at emergency shelters for the women and children expressed anger toward the state’s child welfare agency for removing the children from their mothers and for the conditions in the shelters, which were so poor that upper respiratory infections and chicken pox spread rapidly. One of the workers said it was a deliberate form of coercion: “The more uncomfortable they were the more CPS thought they would talk.” The entire mental health staff was fired the second week, accused by the authorities of being “too compassionate” (Houston Chronicle, 10 May).
The spiritual leader of the FLDS, Warren Jeffs, is in prison, charged with “rape as an accomplice” for performing a marriage—“rape” because the young woman, who was 14, was underage and the groom was her 19-year-old cousin. In “Feds Hands Off Mormon Fundamentalists!” (WV No. 871, 26 May 2006), we defended Jeffs against the government’s witchhunt before his capture, denouncing the anti-sex hysteria and hypocrisy of the authorities and noting that such early marriages were commonplace only decades ago. New Hampshire, for example, still allows 13-year-old girls to marry with parental consent. In some European countries, the age of consent is 14 years, while in quite a few U.S. states first cousins can legally marry.
The state uses reactionary “age of consent” laws to oppress youth—who are supposed to go against nature and be “sexless,” especially if they’re female—and expand its own powers of repression. We oppose “age of consent,” “squeal rules” and “statutory rape” laws, which strengthen the repressive reach of the state, as well as serving as a diversion from the real brutality of this sick capitalist society. We uphold effective consent as the only guiding principle in sexual relations—i.e., mutual agreement and understanding, as opposed to coercion. As long as those who take part agree to do so at the time, no one, least of all the state, has the right to tell them they can’t do it. Rape and violent abuse are terrible crimes that occur throughout society and in monogamous as well as polygamous families. But the prosecution of Mormons for polygamy can only force possible victims to retreat further underground in legitimate fear of the authorities.
The question of polygamy has a long history in the U.S., and was central to the development of Mormonism in the 19th century. When in 1890 the Mormons officially renounced the practice, preparatory to getting Utah recognized as a U.S. state in 1896, significant breakaway factions continued polygamy, one calling themselves the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints. Today, an estimated 10,000 FLDS followers live in communities concentrated along the Utah-Arizona border and nearby states. Their presence in Texas dates only from 2003, and the Texas state authorities have been extremely aggressive in their attempts to banish them.
President Abraham Lincoln, though he later signed a bill outlawing plural marriages, made an early statement to a Mormon journalist regarding the Mormons, a model of good sense and tolerance that the rulers of this decaying capitalist society have long since abandoned. When he was a boy on the farm, he said, “Occasionally we would come to a log which had fallen down. It was too hard to split, too wet to burn and too heavy to move, so we plowed around it. That’s what I intend to do with the Mormons. You go back and tell Brigham Young that if he will let me alone I will let him alone.”
The Family and Organized Religion: Props of Brutal Bourgeois Rule
With revolting hypocrisy, America’s rulers are flexing their muscles against a tiny community in rural Texas while hailing one of the most anti-woman and feudalist forces in the world, the Dalai Lama and the deposed pro-slavery Tibetan “Lamaocracy.” Before the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) came to Tibet, it was a hellhole for poor peasants and women, who slaved like oxen as the ruling monks meditated in the temples. In pre-1950s Tibet, polygamy was the norm and intrinsic to the enslavement of women. Its corollary was polyandry among poorer males, who had to share a wife with other men (often brothers) because they could not afford wives themselves. The PLA’s extension to Tibet of the gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution, which overthrew capitalist rule in China, broke the lamas’ power and lifted the region from feudal darkness, a leap of several centuries in human development (see “Defend Chinese Deformed Workers State! Counterrevolutionary Riots in Tibet,” WV No. 911, 28 March).
Whereas American Mormons essentially choose their practice, in many regions of the world the legacy of precapitalist social backwardness means that women are held to be little more than property, requiring struggle by communists to abolish institutionalized polygamy, as well as the bride price, female genital mutilation and other such practices. In countries of belated capitalist development, social backwardness is reinforced and manipulated by imperialist domination. For example, the U.S. imperialists prop up reactionary client states like impoverished Afghanistan and oil-rich Saudi Arabia, countries where women are forcibly veiled head-to-toe and denied virtually any rights.
In the United States, the government wields its hypocritical “save the children” card to more thoroughly target those it deems “deviant,” including the Eldorado community. The lie of government concern for mothers and children is worn threadbare, as both Democrats and Republicans have slashed welfare and social programs over the past decades, with a huge toll in malnutrition, disease and death. “Abstinence” programs for teens have only enforced sexual ignorance—and resulted in a recent increase in STDs (sexually transmitted diseases). The reality for many poor and working-class Americans, especially single black mothers, is Child Protective Services hounding them and ripping away their children for “neglect” or “abuse,” often because they don’t have anyone to leave their kids with while they go to work.
Certainly the family is a cesspool of frustration, coercion and abuse—whether the bourgeois “one man on one woman for life” model or that of the Mormon polygamists. But it is almost universally far, far worse to fall into the clutches of this barbaric and brutal government’s institutions. Youth who try to escape their families have nowhere to go—and often end up imprisoned in detention centers where they are more likely to be beaten and raped than “rehabilitated.” We fight for free, 24-hour, quality day-care centers and for safe shelters for youth and teens as well as for free contraceptives and abortion on demand and other quality medical care, and for significantly lowering the “age of adulthood.” These are basic measures to help those most in need escape desperate poverty and the straitjacket of the family, without bringing in the cops and prison system.
Fundamentally, the oppression of women and youth is rooted in the institution of the family, which arose with the advent of private property as the mechanism for passing property from one generation to the next, with the monogamous wife supposedly ensuring the heirs’ paternity. For the masses, the role of the family is to instill respect for authority and to act as a conservatizing force. Together with religion, the institution of the family serves to instill a morality that proscribes anything that deviates from the family ideal—such as premarital and gay sex. It reinforces, as Friedrich Engels put it, “the supremacy of the man over the woman, and the individual family as the economic unit of society” (The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State ). Thus, the burden of raising the next generation of workers rests on the family. We wrote in “Free Tom Green! Mormon Polygamists: Leave Them Alone!” (WV No. 764, 14 September 2001):
“The family structure—whether monogamous or polygamous—necessarily oppresses women. However, not everybody understands the source of their oppression, and people do all sorts of things that are undoubtedly bad for them that the state still has no business throwing them in prison for. As Marxists we understand that the family serves a real social purpose and cannot simply be ‘abolished,’ even in a workers state, but must be replaced with alternate social institutions.”
The material basis for women’s liberation can be established only through workers revolutions internationally. In power, the working class would abolish the capitalist private property and inheritance system and socialize the current functions of the family—providing communal kitchens, childcare and health care—thus freeing women from the burden of child-rearing and household slavery.
Regarding religion itself—Mormon or otherwise—our attitude is that it is reactionary superstition counterposed to Marxist materialism. We fight to purge religion from public education and government policy. Religion provides moral justification for exploitation and reactionary prejudices. It deflects workers’ struggles into piety and acquiescence to bourgeois power. But religious beliefs cannot be “abolished” by government decree; they will only wither away when material want is overcome and the oppressed masses no longer feel the need to resort to the supernatural to provide for what is, in capitalist society, unattainable—the hope for a better life, which for billions of people today can only be dreamt of in “heavenly” fantasies.
Persecution by the bourgeois state of religious practices targets smaller, fringe sects or oppressed minorities, reinforcing the moral authority of “mainstream” religions and, more importantly, the bourgeois state itself. We demand the complete separation of church and state, as we seek to relegate religion to the confines of personal belief, and oppose state persecution of religious beliefs. Just as we defend the Church of Scientology against state repression in Germany, we defend the Fundamentalist Mormons, who are being targeted for practices that are nobody’s business but their own.
Given the anti-sex hysteria and ignorance it promulgates, the bourgeois state finds it easy to justify the most barbaric of penalties and intrusions into people’s private lives under the guise of protecting children from sexual abuse. America’s rulers are not interested in protecting children; they are the main oppressors and killers of children, from the black and Latino youth gunned down by cops in the ghettos to the hundreds of thousands of children killed in the predatory wars waged by the American imperialists around the world.
The Eldorado raid is frighteningly reminiscent of the Waco massacre in 1993, when Democratic president Bill Clinton and his attorney general Janet Reno’s thugs ended a three-month siege of the racially integrated Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, by burning alive 86 men, women and children. The guise was alleged “child abuse.” And we do not forget the MOVE massacre in 1985, when the Philadelphia police, led by black Democratic mayor Wilson Goode, and the federal government conspired to firebomb the mainly black back-to-nature MOVE commune, killing eleven people, including five children, and destroying an entire black neighborhood. The Waco and MOVE massacres loom as a reminder of how far the bloody American bourgeois state will go.
While the Eldorado Mormons may be a peculiar sect, they are not the ones wielding the massive apparatus of death that is the bourgeois state, whether administered by the Republicans or Democrats. Just as women’s liberation requires a socialist revolution that expropriates the capitalist class and lays the foundation for the replacement of the family, so the workers and oppressed of this country cannot liberate themselves without understanding that the bourgeois state, with its cops, judges and prisons, must be smashed and replaced by a workers state.