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Marxism and the Woman Question in the 21st Century

 

Magandang hapon mga kaibigan, babae at mga kasama.

Congratulations for organizing this important conference and for giving us the opportunity to speak, even though it is through video, and thank you for your indulgence.

I am a women’s rights and anti-imperialist activist as well as documentary filmmaker. I had the opportunity to get to know the Philippines through many trips to your country starting in the 1980’s to make films on the struggle of the Philippine people (with my partner Malcolm Guy). I have been inspired by the role of the women’s movement in the people’s struggle in your country and this has influenced my views about feminism, national liberation struggles and international solidarity.

I’m proud to have been among the founding members of IWA in 2010, right here in my own city of Montreal, and I continue to enjoy and learn much from the many friends and fellow activists in the Philippines and the diaspora.

I’ll be speaking about: The Continuing validity and vitality of Marxism for the women’s struggle for equality and liberation in the 21 st century. And I am speaking on behalf of IWA, the International Women’s Alliance.

WHO is IWA
The International Women’s Alliance brings together women from the grassroots of women’s and people’s struggles in four continents.

We are rural women in Indonesia fighting against land grabbing and environmental  destruction, we are women in the Philippines, fighting against martial law and tyranny,  extrajudicial killings and forced displacement of our communities;

We are indigenous women in Ecuador fighting large scale mining projects that threaten our mother the earth, we are women in Mexico and Guatemala fighting gender-based violence that has reached femicidal proportions;

We are migrant women in Europe fighting for the right to be treated with dignity;

We are toiling women in Canada and the US, fighting against austerity policies and growing racism and discrimination by the state, First nations women fighting the remnants of colonialism and genocide; and

We are women in Palestine and Kurdistan, taking up arms to defend our land and our people’s right to exist.

What unites us? The understanding that capitalism at its most advanced stage of imperialism today is at the root of our oppression and exploitation. This system is in decay, is at its most exploitative and oppressive, and can only maintain itself through war and destruction. While we in IWA are of different nationalities, ethnic origins, different cultures, languages, races, sexual orientation, and different abilities, we are united in the conviction that we must tackle the roots of our oppression and exploitation, the economic and political system we live in to achieve liberation.

Capitalism – imperialism has enabled a tiny minority of people to accumulate unspeakable wealth from industrial labor. The labor of the majority of working people of the planet, treated as a cheap commodity. The imperialist system allows a handful of powerful nations and corporations to rule over weaker nations and peoples. They resort to unspoken atrocities to maintain their power – waging wars of destruction and aggression, building on the military industry and producing weapons that can destroy the entire planet.

The capitalist class pushes for growth and unbridled production of commodities that we do not need or cannot afford to buy. This exploitative class generates profit from famine and from forced migration of populations. Their system thrives on discrimination of gender and race, and on differences between the level of development in various regions of the world and between peoples and nations.

It was Marx who revealed how this system operates – his explanation of capital, of private property that allows a minority of owners to control the resources of the planet; a system that turns human labor into a cheap commodity, produces obscene profits for the owners, and chains workers to the owners for their livelihood.

Marx brought the understanding of the concept of surplus value – that our wages represent only what is necessary for us to live and reproduce, but not the value of all we produce – that the fruits of unpaid labor goes to the owners, the owning class, the bourgeoisie.

He also pointed out that women become a global reserve army of cheap labor, which we’ve seen vividly with the feminization of migration. Marx brought us the understanding that women’s unpaid work in the domestic sphere is part of that class exploitation; his materialist analysis is the first to reveal that the unpaid labor of women in the home, their work of reproducing life, has value, and indeed value that is appropriated by the owning class in society. The value of housework has been a key element to women’s liberation thought. It inspired many feminists to develop their own theories about the source of women’s oppression.

As a result, some feminists have concluded that our priority must be to target patriarchy, the system of gender oppression, to resolve the contradiction between men and women as the key to revolutionary change; (because it was the earliest form of oppression between humans.) Other progressive forces believe that tackling racial oppression and discrimination is the key to transforming society.

Indeed, we have taken to mentioning not only these, but all forms of oppression in our demands at rallies and protests, fearful of forgetting a particular group, and to emphasizing the privilege of those who do not suffer from these oppressions if they are forgotten or unmentioned. (White privilege, male privilege, hetero privilege etc.)

This practice is prevalent in the feminist movement today, looking at how all of the different forms of oppression intersect, as key to waging the struggle for the emancipation of all. There is no doubt about the powerful potential of movements like the women’s ME Too against sexual violence, or the Black Lives Matter movement against the violence of systemic racism in the US. But they generally lack a crucial aspect: class.

We’ve witnessed a phenomenon some call ABC – Anything but Class in many of our people’s movements, in the west in particular. It is justified by the changing nature of work, of production, the fact that many are self-employed, work in precarious jobs, in the informal and service sector, and it has led to theorizing about the death of the proletariat, and to a de-politicized workplace. This serves the powerful very well.

Marx points us in a different direction.

WHAT DOES MARXISM BRING TO OUR STRUGGLE FOR LIBERATION?

1) Historical materialism teaches us that we are material beings, we exist, therefore we think, we enter into relations with each other to feed and protect ourselves. These are called the social relations of production. It also reveals that in the history of society women were not always subordinate to men and that this systemic subordination was entrenched with private property.

2) Dialectics – that each thing, that each process in life and in the world contains its opposite, that a bad thing can be turned into a good thing, that women’s oppression can become a powerful force for change in the world… as can the other forms of discrimination.

3) That at each time in history, in each context, there is a principal contradiction in our society and in the world, that is key to unravelling all of the others. That the class contradiction is the key to transforming the foundations of society. A woman’s place is in the struggle… in the fundamental class struggle to topple the old order and change the foundations of society. Marx traces the history of society as one of class struggle, from the early human hunters and gatherers, to slave society, to feudalism and now capitalism. He also foresaw the advent of socialism, where the toiling majority rule and classes eventually disappear.

This struggle cannot be successful without the participation of half of humanity, the women. For women to participate, to feel their vested interest in the struggle, the revolutionary movement must also oppose their oppression, and the oppression of other sectors and groups who have suffered discrimination; and make it fuel the revolutionary class struggle of the toiling masses.

But without class consciousness, without the class struggle, we are destined to fritter away our energy, compartmentalizing our specific oppression and emphasizing the differences between us, rather than the common class interest that binds us. And when the class struggle erupts, as it inevitably does, it can shake society.

We have just witnessed the strikes that paralyzed France in the last few months: three nationwide work stoppages by public sector workers opposed the government plan to cut 120,000 jobs by 2022; how hundreds of flights were cancelled when air traffic controllers walked off the job, and how the country was paralyzed with the railway workers strike.

In the US, it is the women, women of color and migrants who have waged massive strikes in the hospitals, hotels and food service industries involving thousands; the teachers strikes waged mainly by notoriously underpaid women have spread like wildfire from West Virginia to Oklahoma and Kentucky, states that are Republican Party
strongholds where Trump won a majority of votes. They were protesting cuts in pay and
benefits and overcrowded classrooms.

These are powerful movements that send shock-waves through the halls of power. Women are and must be involved in these struggles, as they sharpen class consciousness and are schools of struggle against other forms of oppression too.

THE PHILIPPINE WOMEN’S MOVEMENT AN EXAMPLE

You are fortunate in the Philippines to have a vibrant women’s movement that sees the struggle of women for liberation as being one with that of the liberation struggle of the people. The path to revolution and determining who is your enemy and who are your friends are more clear. Thanks to a strong revolutionary and national democratic movement you are fortunate to have clear sighted political leadership. All toiling women must be part of the women’s movement, not only women’s organizations.

The International Women’s Alliance, IWA, was established in 2010 to contribute to building a powerful women’s movement that will contribute to making these fundamental changes in society. The largest and most advanced women’s organizations in our ranks come from the global south, particularly the Philippines. There, the revolutionary women’s movement has actively called for the widest participation of women in the various tasks of the national-democratic revolution.

Various people`s movements have responded to this call by recruiting more women into
their fold, paying attention to building specific organizations of women, raising women-
specific issues, and addressing problems related to housework and child care. At the helm of various people’s and class-based movements are women who fight not only for the resolution of their class demands but also for their demands as women.
I have learned much from this movement.

It is clear that the revolutionary women`s movement in the Philippines is an integral part of the national-democratic movement. This is because the interests of women are one with the interests of the entire nation for liberation.

Back to Marx.

RECENT HISTORY HAS SHOWN THAT THE STATUS OF WOMEN IN SOCIETY CAN
CHANGE VIRTUALLY OVERNIGHT THROUGH SOCIAL REVOLUTION.

For example, in the October Revolution, inspired by Marx’s teachings, changed the history of the world; Women played an active role from organizing strikes to joining the Red Army. The victory of the Soviets was also a women’s victory.

Immediately after the new Bolshevik government took power in 1917, among its first legislative acts was to guarantee the right of women to directly participate in social and political activity in their workplaces and to eliminate all systemic obstacles which had entrenched their subordination and subservience to men. New legislation on maternity and health insurance was adopted in December 1917. A public insurance fund was created, with no deductions from workers’ wages, benefitting both women workers and male workers’ wives.

After the victory of the revolution, Alexandra Kollontai entered the new Soviet government as Commissar for Social Services. This position enabled her to participate in passing new laws which recognized women as citizens with equal rights to men. (This placed the Soviet Union among the first countries to grant women the right to vote.)

Six weeks after the revolution, civil marriage was introduced and a year later the new civil code established an equal legal status between husband and wife. The distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children was eliminated. Divorce procedures were made much easier, based on the concept of mutual agreement allowing immediate divorce, and access to a court when mutual agreement was not forthcoming; maintenance allowance was to be guaranteed in cases of unemployment or economic difficulties.

In January 1918 the Department for the Protection of Maternity and Youth was officially established. It granted assistance to pregnant women workers and mothers who had recently given birth. It included a period of 16 weeks leave from work, before and after giving birth – something that is still not provided a century later in the US, the richest country in the world, where only 12 weeks of maternity leave is granted! The special commissions established during the 1917 Congress in Soviet Russia were closely involved in the adoption and rapid implementation of all these reforms. The commission’s main task was to promote the acceptance of the reforms by the population at large, which had to overcome old residual prejudices from the past period of capitalist oppression.

SOCIALISM IS STILL ON THE AGENDA, AND MARX’S BASIC TEACHINGS are more relevant today than ever.

We are the era of imperialism, where capitalism is decaying, torn by its own contradictions. AS women, we have every interest in helping to tear this system down; as women workers and part of the toiling people of the world, capitalism and imperialism cannot be smashed without us, without our participation in the struggles in each of our countries; we hold up half the sky, as Mao Zedong said, and it is up to us to play our role in smashing the old order and building a new world and a bright future for our children.

The future of humanity requires it!

Maraming Salamat.


IMG-8130Marie Boti is the Vice-Chairperson of IWA, founding member of Women of Diverse Origins and co-founder of Multi-Monde Productions

On the occasion of Karl Marx’s 200 birth anniversary, a study conference was organized by IBON International, Institute of Political Economy, International League of People`s Struggle and Kilusang Mayo Uno on 13 June 2018 in Quezon City, Philippines. Marie was invited to speak on the relevance of Marx`s teachings and the current situation of women around the world. //

 

 

 

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