Subway Dreams on International Women's Day: Train to the Future

by Osage Bell

Revolutionary Worker #1231, March 7, 2004, posted at

New York City-- Her hands. They are dry and cracked--probably from years of washing dishes under hot water while her husband relaxed in front of the television. Her ankles are swollen. She looks relieved at finding a seat on the subway. I wonder if she is a waitress or if she does piecework like my mother used to, or is a maid in a highrise office building. She probably doesn't know International Women's Day is on March 8. Standing across from her, I wonder what she would think if she knew there is a day where the struggles and resistance of women are upheld. A holiday that shows how their daily sacrifices are an intrinsic and life-sucking part of the whole capitalist set-up--and not just reasons to "cherish" them with (always pink) Hallmark cards. This set-up needs women to work all day to support their families and then come home to care for their every daily or emotional need. A set-up that uses the love they feel to keep patriarchy running. A set-up that can and must be done away with--and cannot be done away with if we don't unleash men and women to uproot women's oppression.

With this holiday nearing, I think about all the women we will be honoring, who give us reason to celebrate. There are the women I see on the streets of my city and elsewhere who, barely a year ago, were battling with the boys in blue for their right to dissent against an unjust war. In fact, in every struggle--from police brutality to land struggles in Atenco, Mexico to the worldwide anti-globalization struggles--you see fierce and fearless women taking the frontlines. Closest in my heart, though, are my revolutionary communist sisters in Nepal, Peru, Iran, Turkey, and the Philippines--conscious proletarian women who have bucked all chains of suspicion and tradition to transform themselves and the world by taking up the liberating ideology of MLM.

A sudden jolt of the train brings me back to New York City, USA, 2004. I've been told I should be thankful to live here because of the "freedoms" I have in contrast to the women in countries the U.S. has "liberated" like Iraq and Afghanistan. "You can wear whatever you want. You're allowed to go to school, work, and even fall in love with whomever you want. You can speak your mind and run for office." If I was aiming for a mediocre existence and was willing to accept all the horrors in the world and all the lies I'm told, then perhaps I would be satisfied with believing that bullshit.

But let's be real. What does it truly mean to be a woman in this imperialist country? What do the women in Afghanistan and Iraq have to look forward to if the example of the lives of American women is imposed on them? I think about these women on my train--what are they going home to? A lot of them are scared to walk home at night because fear of rape holds them hostage. Will they be beaten tonight by their husbands? Some have attempted suicide because they hate their bodies. How many have been separated from their families because they moved to this country to support them? Is she able to live with the woman she loves? Odds are many of them have been raped--and have kept silent about it for fear of being called some other name reserved only for women--slut, whore, tease. How many children have they given birth to because of the anti-abortion lies they've been fed?


I think about what a potent combination it would be for these women to hear the words and vision of the RCP's Chairman Bob Avakian. Imagine them getting ahold of his writings--not just on the oppression of women, but about liberating all of humanity. And imagine men following his example--refusing to break "all the chains but one" and, instead, taking initiative around liberating their sisters! That's some of what I think of when I hear the RCP's slogan: Break the chains! Unleash the fury of women as a mighty force for revolution!

Because as the RCP's Chairman Bob Avakian says:

"The oppression of women, on the greatest scale and down to the most personal and intimate detail, is an everyday fact of life under the present order. In personal family relations, and everywhere in society, women--even those of the propertied and financially well-off classes--are continually subjected to insult, threats, abuse, degradation, and brutality at the hands of men. They are virtually treated as property themselves--as commodities to be bought and sold and to be used to sell other commodities. Male supremacist domination and oppression of women is not only an everyday fact of life-- it is a foundation stone of capitalism and of all systems where one section of society dominates and exploits others. And therefore it is woven into the fabric of society and the dominant culture--in religious-based `traditional morality' as well as in the flagrant sexual plunder of pornography and prostitution."

Just look at the kind of bible-inspired world Bush wants to create with his recent dictates on marriage, reinforcing women as the property of men. This only further exposes how hypocritical he is for daring to sound sympathetic and outraged at the lives of women under Islamic fundamentalism, when the very global system the U.S. imposes and defends is what enforces these brutal conditions. And this system ties all of humanity together: any piece of "freedom" women in the bourgeois democracies may have comes at a high price--the domination and super-exploitation of oppressed nations and the re- enforcing of semi-feudal societies where the oppression of women is that much more severe and horrifying.

So, the whole terms of things--where women in the imperialist countries are supposed to feel lucky compared to our sisters in most of the world--only keeps our dreams hemmed in. We need a radically different solution.

We could do sooo much better--the proletariat, with its revolutionary power solidly in place would be able to eradicate rape, dismantle the brutal exploitation in the workplace and for the first time, enable the masses of people to reshape society and their destiny. I'm not just dreaming of some gray equality in a bourgeois world but whole world transformation. Because, as Chairman Avakian says, "The liberation of the poor and exploited people of the world is completely bound up with the liberation of women from every form of male supremacist domination and oppression, and vice versa--you cannot have one without the other." And the only thing standing in the way of that is this moribund capitalist system. Which is why proletarian revolution is needed and urgently called for. Only it can truly liberate women and all of humanity. Anything less would lead all of us back into chains.


Because they are constantly subjected to--and repeatedly rise up against--male supremacist domination and oppression, and because they are half of humanity and half of the world's exploited and oppressed people, women will indeed be a tremendously powerful force for revolution--proletarian revolution. This will be true in the struggle to overthrow the present system and in continuing the revolution after the proletariat has seized power and set up its own rule in society. And, in turn, no other force in the world, besides the revolutionary proletariat, has an interest in and dares to fully take up the fight to abolish the oppression of women and to fully unleash the fury of women as a revolutionary force. This is because no other class in society, besides the proletariat, has nothing to protect in the present order and no interest in preserving any of the oppressive relations that are bound up with the division of society into classes.

Bob Avakian, "Why Only Proletarian Revolution Can Liberate Women"

All around the world, our class, the proletariat, has a whole history that testifies to the beautiful possibilities in front of us. My mind stretches back to 1871, to the men and women who first struck fear into the hearts of the heartless bourgeoisie, and the women of the Paris Commune.

I can almost smell the odor of gunpowder as I picture these women beside me--their clothes dirty from being out at the barricades and bonfires, holding bayonets. I imagine them standing in this train with their feet perched comfortably on the seats. I see the woman who lit cannons with her cigar. Definitely not lady-like.

This was the first time women had come onto the scene as part of a class to dismantle all notions of sweet damsels in distress. They were causing great distress --for the capitalist rulers! A smile spreads across my face, thinking about the bourgeois at that time who said, "If France were a whole nation of women, what a terrible nation it would be!" He must have been thinking about all those women, forced to live under the boot of patriarchy, opening their eyes and putting their brooms and matchsticks to better use. They struggled against religious superstition, which had prevented many women from understanding how society works. They picked up arms, controlled cannons, and built barricades in the streets of Paris--not for their children or community in some narrow, civic sense--but for the future of society.

And while their siege didn't last long, they sowed the seeds of the Russian Revolution which, in 1917, succeeded in seizing and holding state power for nearly 40 years with the leadership of its vanguard party and its leader, V.I. Lenin.

Centered in the industrial cities of European Russia, the revolution stirred radical new hopes in the eastern colonies of the Tsar's empire. On International Women's Day in 1927, 100,000 women stood together in Bukhara in the newly founded Soviet Republic of Uzbekistan. They tore off their veils, dipped them in wax, and burned them. Intense confrontations with feudal patriarchs followed, and hundreds of women were lynched for refusing to go back under cover. But by 1930, after years of complex struggle led by the Communist Party, there were no veiled women in Bukhara.

As our Draft Programme states, " Lenin put it, a measure of the thoroughness (and the success) of any revolution is the degree to which it mobilizes and emancipates women."

We saw that most boldly in China, in particular during the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, when, under the leadership of Chairman Mao Tsetung, women broke through centuries of feudal traditions and back-breaking social relations where they were held as property by their husband and his family. Women in Red China were leaders in transforming all aspects of life--from art and culture to education and physical work once deemed "men's work." Women went from having their feet bound, to wielding rifles, to revolutionary communist leaders in the storms of the Cultural Revolution. I'm reminded of the communist aspirations of these women, expressed in Mao's poem, "Ode to the Plum Blossom"--

Sweet and fair, she craves not Spring for herself alone,
To be the harbinger of Spring she is content.
When the mountain flowers are in full bloom
She will smile mingling in their midst.

Mao Tsetung, December 1961


An image of the Himalayas forms on the window of the train. I think of Nepal 2004, where we see the communist role for women playing out full force in real time. Tens of thousands of young peasant women have joined the People's Army, believing that armed struggle to overthrow the government is the only way to achieve liberation. They are proving on the daily that proletarian revolution and the science of MLM don't just apply to some historic period. They have taken the future into their own hands. Alongside the men, they are waging an armed struggle to overthrow a corrupt and oppressive regime. And many of these women are giving their lives to change the world.

Images float in front of my eyes of Nepalese women in their colorful traditional clothing with their fists in the air. I try to place myself there--a country where one proverb says, "To be born as a daughter is having ill fate." After visiting there, Li Onesto, author of Dispatches , said the reality behind this proverb is that women in Nepal are among the most oppressed on the planet. Before the revolution, women were jailed for having abortions and were not allowed to inherit land. Life expectancy for women is 52 years and they work 18-hour days. Nepalese women have been going up against all the harsh conditions and inequalities of the decrepit monarchy.

But since the war's initiation in 1996, there are now eight-year-old girls who don't know Nepal without revolution. Eight-year-old girls who have the real chance to feel welcomed and valued in a country that once taught them to fast so they could get a husband. Now, with the leadership of the proletariat, these eight-year-old girls won't have to fear being traded to India as sex slaves or to work in sweatshops. They will learn to read, sing revolutionary songs, watch the men of their villages cooking and cleaning, play games where they learn about formerly oppressed cultures, and develop a communist spirit that will lead them to care for the whole world. They will dream of being leaders and fighters, and anything else previously denied them.


Back in New York City, I bring these stories home, imagining these women and men on the train with me talking to each other, challenging each other with MLM, struggling shoulder to shoulder, daring to break all the chains that hold us back. I'm excited picturing men taking equal responsibility for breaking this chain in particular. Instead of burying their faces further into their coats, alienated from each other, they are studying and following our Chairman, painting pictures of socialism with his words on their tongues. They are fearless and hopeful.

No matter how much the powers-that-be, with their vulture-like grip on the world, try to stamp out the truth about communism and the truth about what men and women are really capable of; no matter how much they try to cover it up and distort it all, this history, this science, and our struggle are real and we need to tell people that! As our Chairman has said, "The contradictions involved with the role and position of women in the present period.are extremely explosive. The ruling class in the U.S. is obviously trying to mitigate and contain this contradiction--or, rather, to prevent it from moving in the direction of a radical revolutionary explosion."


The train lurches to a stop and I run up the stairs to emerge onto the busy Manhattan streets. I see the Himalayas behind the skyscrapers and red flags on the rooftops. The Empire State Building is flushed bright red.that may just be me daydreaming, but as I weave in and out of the crowds, making my way uptown, I can see this world within reach.