By Bob Avakian
Editors’ note: The following is an excerpt from the new work by Bob Avakian, THE NEW COMMUNISM. In addition to excerpts already posted on revcom.us, we will be running further excerpts from time to time on both revcom.us and in Revolution newspaper. These excerpts should serve as encouragement and inspiration for people to get into the work as a whole, which is available as a book from Insight Press. A prepublication copy is available on line at revcom.us.
This excerpt comes from the section titled “III. The Strategic Approach to An Actual Revolution.”
Excerpt from the section:
The Strategic Importance of the Struggle
for the Emancipation of Women
The oppression of women, and the fight for their emancipation, has to be recognized, in its full dimensions, as a strategic question—both within this country and in the world as a whole—something which can and must play a crucial role in the overall fight to uproot all oppression and exploitation and emancipate all of humanity. This is spoken to in BAsics 3:22,56 and it’s elaborated on more fully in Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution Part 3,57 where the point is made that one of the things that stands out in the world today is the way in which the contradictions that are bound up with the oppression of women are becoming more and more pronounced and acute. Part of this is owing to changes in the way in which globalized imperialism operates. Let’s put it this way: The exploitation of the proletariat in many parts of the world is, to a very significant degree, the exploitation of women. That’s not entirely the case, but it’s very significantly so.
That is one objective factor which is clashing against some of the traditional forms of the oppression of women. With regard to these fundamentalist religious forces in the world, they are, at their very core, reactionary, murderous patriarchal forces—if one thing defines them, above all it is that—and one of the reasons this reactionary fundamentalism has become such a major phenomenon is this dramatic change in conditions, with so many women out in the world more, and being exploited as proletarians as a significant part of this. There has been the uprooting of much of the peasantry in many countries throughout the Third World—the hurtling of people into urban shantytowns. Here, again, what’s emphasized in those six paragraphs at the beginning of Part 2 of Making Revolution and Emancipating Humanity comes into play: You can’t know all that will result from all the different things happening in the world, including what comes about as a result of the workings of the system, and what other class forces are doing—you can’t anticipate fully all the changes this might lead to—but you do have to work on all that, including what these other class forces are trying to do in working on the situation. Even the creation of larger middle class forces in many of these Third World countries—whether it’s China, India, or elsewhere, even in many African countries that are so plundered by imperialism, you still have a significant development of middle classes in a way that you didn’t have a few decades ago—even that kind of development is itself contradictory. On the one hand, it causes a problem for the communist revolution. The middle classes, we have to win them over, at least to a significant degree, but goddamn, it can be a real problem in the short run! You get my point—you get the spirit in which I’m saying that. In any case, this phenomenon of significantly increased middle strata in many Third World countries is contradictory, not only in a general sense but also specifically in regard to the woman question, because you have many more educated women, for example, in the middle strata, and this is sharply clashing up against a lot of traditional ways in which women are oppressed. One of the reasons why you have horrific things like these mass rapes in India and other outrages is because of these changes that are undermining and challenging a lot of the traditional forms of oppression, including specifically patriarchal oppression. But there hasn’t been any kind of revolutionary transformation. So this leads to a very explosive, a very volatile, situation, which gives rise in the short run to many horrific things.
And then you can look within this country: It has been pointed out that, with the changing nature of the economy, along with large numbers of women working in lower tier, lower paid jobs, you have a lot more women professionals, a lot more women in the middle class generally who are themselves working, many more women college graduates, and so on. Things like this are vastly different than a few decades ago. And this, too, has its very contradictory effects—all this personal empowerment, and “let me start up my entrepreneurial thing, or let me get into a business executive position and learn how to be just as cutthroat as the men,” on the one side. But, on the other side, this is clashing up against the traditional relations, and in this country, too, it is calling forth, or is a major factor in calling forth, all this fundamentalist madness, in this case Christian Fascist fundamentalism. For example, the whole assault on the right to abortion. And speaking of this, there is something we really should emphasize: These dark ages fanatics are not just going after abortion, they are moving very directly now in opposition to birth control as well. As kind of an aside, but an important one, this really illustrates what’s actually involved here. This point has been made before, but I want to really drive it home, that this opposition to birth control, as well as abortion, sharply illustrates how much this is about the subjugation of women and treating them as breeding machines, as well as sex objects, and how it’s not at all about “the killing of babies.”
But, to return to the main point here, the contradictions between significant social changes affecting women in particular, up against traditional expressions of the oppression of women, are assuming acute expression; and this question—of the oppression, and the struggle for the emancipation, of women—is objectively posing itself in a much more pronounced way. It needs to be taken up on a much greater scale, as a major part of the proletarian revolution—as an important fight in its own right, but also, in a fundamental sense, as a crucial part of the revolution whose ultimate goal is a communist world without any form of oppression or exploitation.
Look at the treatment of women around the world and in this country. You cannot live in this country without being constantly assaulted with the degradation of women. Along with the widespread sexual assault and sexual degradation of women, as well as attacks on something as basic as their right to determine when, or even whether, to have children, think about child-rearing. With the changes that have taken place, where a large number of births in this country involve single women, it’s obvious who’s taking responsibility for the child-rearing in those situations. And within families with a husband and wife, it is still overwhelmingly the women who are taking care of the children and the household, while many of them are also working outside the home. This is not just a superficial phenomenon—or just a “relic” of past relations in the family; it is linked to, and in an overall sense a part of, deeply rooted patriarchal relations, which—going back to the point about the mode of production—are rooted in relations of commodity production and exchange, where the exploitation of the commodity labor power is the means for accumulating capital, in competition with other capitals. All this is not incidental to this system—it cannot be abolished by reforms within this system or by getting more “enlightened people” in positions of authority. A scientific analysis, digging into the fundamental relations and dynamics of this system, will powerfully illustrate why it is not possible to abolish the oppression of women under this system.
A couple of thought experiments, as they say, can help drive home this fundamental point. Could you abolish the traditional family under this system? And if you abolished that family, how would you deal with things like the inheritance of private property? Or how would you end the oppression of women under this system while maintaining the family? These are questions for us to grapple with ourselves, but also to pose to other people. If you’re going to be serious about ending this oppression, let’s talk just about whether you could do those things under this system. The truth is, you cannot. But, again, rather than just saying that and affirming it like religious dogma, we need to do the work to really get into why that is so, in order to have the necessary grounding ourselves to be able to win many more people to that understanding, as a crucial part of bringing them forward to the overall revolution we need.
There is not going to be any communist revolution which tries to sidestep this question or puts it into a secondary, subordinate place. This must be recognized, not just out of moral conviction—although that, too—but out of strategic considerations. It obviously shouldn’t be a goal to have a revolution without the emancipation of women being a prominent aspect of that revolution, but in any case it isn’t possible—you’re not going to be able to get seriously on the road of a communist revolution without this figuring prominently into everything you’re doing.
And, again, we don’t go by populism or by superficial phenomena. We don’t go by what most people are doing or thinking at any given time. We go by looking to and analyzing the more deeply rooted contradictions at the base of this system, of which the oppression of women is a very, very profound one. Right now there is not nearly the mass motion and struggle around this contradiction that there needs to be. But that does not mean that it’s not a deep-seated contradiction. It means that there are other contradictions involved that also have to be struggled through to bring forward the kind of mass struggle around this that there needs to be, and to link it with the overall revolutionary struggle whose ultimate goal is communism. And this is strategically very favorable. It’s bound up with a lot of contradictions which have aspects that are unfavorable in the short run, but in an overall sense, and strategically, this is very favorable. If you want to talk about a group in society whose fundamental need to be able to breathe, and to live as human beings, cannot be met other than through the communist revolution, there’s no group for whom that’s more true than the masses of women.
“You cannot break all the chains, except one. You cannot say you want to be free of exploitation and oppression, except you want to keep the oppression of women by men. You can’t say you want to liberate humanity yet keep one half of the people enslaved to the other half. The oppression of women is completely bound up with the division of society into masters and slaves, exploiters and exploited, and the ending of all such conditions is impossible without the complete liberation of women. All this is why women have a tremendous role to play not only in making revolution but in making sure there is all-the-way revolution. The fury of women can and must be fully unleashed as a mighty force for proletarian revolution.”
BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian [back]
57. Bob Avakian, Unresolved Contradictions, Driving Forces for Revolution, edited transcript of a talk given in the fall of 2009. Available at revcom.us. [back]