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The following is based on a document by comrade Kaur adopted at the International Conference.

The acuteness of women’s oppression in the neocolonies is a result of belated capitalist development caused by imperialist subjugation. This leads to the persistence of socially backward, precapitalist practices and their integration into modern life—for example: the burqa in Islam, dowry in many South Asian cultures, lobola [bride price] in southern Africa and female genital mutilation. Since imperialism arrests social development, it is ultimately responsible for the maintenance of these practices. Women’s and national oppression therefore have a common material basis. As such, the fight for women’s liberation in neocolonial countries is inseparable from the fight for national liberation; the two must be wielded together to fight for social revolution.

There are many “anti-imperialist” forces in the neocolonies that claim to fight for national liberation but in fact undermine it at every step. Marxists must oppose these forces and show that what they have to offer women is entirely reactionary. We fight to link the struggle against women’s oppression to the class struggle against imperialism and the national bourgeoisie. In line with the 1922 Comintern “Theses on the Eastern Question,” we fight for communist leadership:

“The oppressed masses can be led to victory only by a consistent revolutionary line aimed at drawing the broadest masses into active struggle and an unconditional break with all those who seek conciliation with imperialism in order to maintain their own class-rule.”

This perspective is completely counterposed to the ICL’s International Declaration of Principles (IDOP), which states:

“In countries of belated capitalist development, the acute oppression and degradation of women is deeply rooted in pre-capitalist ‘tradition’ and religious obscurantism. In these countries the fight against women’s oppression is therefore a motor force of revolutionary struggle.” [emphasis added]

This is liberal for two reasons. First, it revises Marxism in saying that it is due to the acuteness of oppression in the neocolonial countries that the fight against women’s oppression is a motor force for revolutionary struggle. This is wrong. Women’s oppression is fundamentally rooted in private property and is a motor force for revolution everywhere.

In saying that it is a motor force only in dependent countries, the ICL made a fundamental distinction between women’s oppression in the East and the West. We prettified women’s oppression in the West, disappearing the role of religion therein, and capitulated to western liberal feminists who balk at the backwardness of the East and for whom the pinnacle of women’s liberation is bourgeois democracy in advanced capitalist societies. Our position defined the tasks of communists as fighting for the equalization of conditions of women in the East with those in the West and objectively aligned us with “progressive” forces that preach enlightenment throughout the Third World to save “poor women”—the line of CIA feminists to justify imperialist interventions in Afghanistan! This framework replaced class struggle as the source of social progress with non-proletarian means, in line with the civilizing missions of NGOs that are directly financed by imperialist governments and politically aligned with their priorities.

Second, it is true that women’s oppression in neocolonial countries is more acute and finds justification in religion and tradition. However, as stated earlier, imperialist pillage of dependent countries is the central reason for their underdevelopment and for the persistence of “backwardness.” By insisting on it being “deeply rooted in pre-capitalist ‘tradition’,” the IDOP disappears the material basis of women’s oppression in the East, turning the fight for women’s liberation into a struggle over ideas, not a struggle over social relations and the material conditions that give rise to them. This is an idealist perversion of Marxism which disappears the class line. As Lenin wrote:

“We must combat religion—that is the ABC of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism. But Marxism is not a materialism which has stopped at the ABC. Marxism goes further. It says: We must know how to combat religion, and in order to do so we must explain the source of faith and religion among the masses in a materialist way. The combating of religion cannot be confined to abstract ideological preaching, and it must not be reduced to such preaching. It must be linked up with the concrete practice of the class movement, which aims at eliminating the social roots of religion.”

—“The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion” (May 1909)

Liberal imperialist preaching fuels reactionary forces that, under the guise of opposing imperialism, bind the oppressed ever more to “tradition.” For example, in responding to the liberal opposition to a legal bill giving the chieftaincy more powers, South Africa’s former president Jacob Zuma retorted: “Let us solve African problems the African way, not the white man’s way” (quoted in Spartacist South Africa No. 9, Winter 2013). Broad masses in South Africa understandably oppose the liberal civilizing propaganda of their historic oppressors. The ICL’s echo of such propaganda left the likes of Zuma unchallenged in claiming to be defenders of the nation.

Moreover, making women’s liberation centrally about fighting religion and tradition divides the working class and rural masses based on who has better or worse ideas, instead of uniting them in struggle against imperialism and its agents—the only way to eradicate the material basis of precapitalist remnants. To understand the divisive mechanics of liberal preaching, we can turn to what Lenin noted about Bismarck’s struggle against the German Catholic party:

“By this struggle Bismarck only stimulated the militant clericalism of the Catholics, and only injured the work of real culture, because he gave prominence to religious divisions rather than political divisions, and diverted the attention of some sections of the working class and of the other democratic elements away from the urgent tasks of the class and revolutionary struggle to the most superficial and false bourgeois anti-clericalism.” [second emphasis added]

—“The Attitude of the Workers’ Party to Religion”

The application of permanent revolution to women’s liberation means nothing other than fighting against imperialism and for the hegemony of the communist banner, in opposition to the liberal feminists, bourgeois nationalists and their various left tails. Our task is to expose that all these forces undermine and obstruct the struggle against imperialism at each turn and in so doing perpetuate the degradation of women. In the spirit of Trotsky’s letter to South African revolutionaries (“On the South African Theses,” 20 April 1935), our program for women’s liberation in dependent countries insists:

  1. The national and woman questions coincide in their basis and therefore require a struggle against imperialism and its agents.

  2. Both these questions can be solved only in a revolutionary way, through class-struggle methods in opposition to liberal preaching that breeds reaction.

  3. The fight against women’s oppression must result in the dictatorship of the proletariat, supported by the peasant masses.