What Should We Aim For?

Setting Our Sights on Women's Liberation

by Osage Bell

Revolutionary Worker #1237, April 25, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org

I was born after abortion was legalized and grew up in the "take abortion for granted" generation. So it used to seem crazy to me to think that one day doctors could once again be prosecuted for performing certain kinds of abortions because they had become illegal. Or that anti-choice forces would succeed in getting the federal government to declare a fetus a "citizen" with rights. Or that a woman could be charged with murder, jailed, and then forced to plead to a lesser felony because her refusal to have a Cesarean resulted in a stillbirth. I used to think such things were so viscerally intolerable that no one would let them happen.

But now, every time I turn on my television, open a newspaper, or listen to the radio, this is the news I'm getting.

I'm overwhelmed and outraged--and I've been thinking about this a lot lately, with the pro-choice March for Women's Lives coming up April 25 in D.C.

It feels like every day there is a new level of attack on women's reproductive freedom or some new onslaught of religious fundamentalism--like all the laws Bush has signed, starting with his first days in office, and the recent Ashcroft-led investigations into abortion providers and women's medical records. Federal police are back in the business of tracking women's reproductive choices and punishing doctors who carry them out.

While these efforts to make abortion illegal are being led most stridently by the right wing of the ruling class, they have not been significantly opposed by any politician. And along with these moves against abortion, there has been a battle for public opinion--for the very ways that the people view both abortion and women. It knocks the wind out of me each time I hear a woman say, "Sure, I think women should have the choice, but I would never have one."

The reactionary elements within the ruling class are slowly drawing a hood over our heads, covering our eyes and ears, with the intent to strangle our ability to dissent.

During the 2000 electoral campaign, Bush said that a total ban on abortion was needed but that the "culture" of the U.S. was not yet "ready" for such a ban. And the moves to "ready" the U.S. culture are in full effect. A culture war is raging throughout the country, and an important arm of it is a war on women. Very powerful leading forces, high within the ruling class and political establishment, are determined to throw down--over religious morality in public life, gay marriage, abortion, cultural diversity, birth control education, teenage sexuality, political dissent, and all the many other things that define where a society is going.

The roots of this war go much deeper, and its goals are far more sinister than just Bush. And the degree to which we understand this has a lot to do with how we fight back, what we fight for, and whether we have a chance of winning real reproductive freedom and much more.

Wars Around the World, Repression in the "Homeland"

Capitalism's need to keep women in a weaker, subjugated position is nothing new. But the recent attacks on women's rights are happening in a "new" America. This growing onslaught is coming at a time when the government is aggressively moving to sweep up the globe with the U.S. firmly on top, unchallenged--first Afghanistan, now Iraq, with undisclosed missions in several other countries and plans for military operations in many more.

To move forward with this war on the world, with their "with us or against us" mantra, the U.S. rulers require a stable home front. Immediately after Sept. 11, they promised a war that would last generations and new levels of repression at home. Part of this repression seeks to get the country to fall in line passively, unable or unwilling to dissent, question, or think for ourselves. But that's not all.

The right wing within the ruling class is also preparing the ground to unleash their base of reactionary forces-- many of them trained in a fundamentalist Christian morality. These forces have a history of violence against women's clinics and against gays and lesbians, as well as connections to violent white supremacists. We see this reactionary morality supported from the highest offices in the land. Look at Bush opposing gay marriages and signing the Partial- Birth Abortion Ban Act and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which establish a fetus' "civil rights" while denying women theirs.

It's far too easy to miss the connections between these attacks and to think that the situation in this country could never go too far or get that bad. But that's a dangerous trap to fall into.

It is not crazy to say that this is the face of fascism in America.

Multi-Pronged Attack on Abortion

Highly placed powerful forces are energetically and impatiently pushing ahead to completely ban abortion. The Bush administration has been laying the groundwork to do this on many fronts.

In his first year in office, Bush blocked U.S. funds to international family-planning groups that offer abortion and abortion counseling. The U.S. government forbade women's doctors and counselors in other countries from telling patients where they can get safe abortions, even if abortions are legal and available in those countries. And the U.S. required women's clinics and family planning organizations to agree, in writing, that they will not campaign politically , within their own countries, for the legalization or funding of abortion.

In November 2003, Bush signed the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003" (PBABA), making it a federal crime to perform specific abortion procedures. The PBABA was the first direct federal criminalization imposed on abortion since 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion. Doctors charged with violating the PBABA face up to two years in prison.

In February 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft sent his agents in the Justice Department to investigate the medical records of women who have undergone certain abortions. This police work was assigned to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, showing that the federal police now officially embrace the fundamentalist fiction that fetuses are legally "persons" with "civil rights" that supposedly have to be police protected--from the choices of women and their doctors!

My generation is too young to remember when abortion was illegal, but I think we can imagine it now.

The foes of abortion seek to spread untruths about what abortions are and to remove women from the debate. But what is equally frightening is seeing mainstream pro-choice forces distance themselves from late-term abortions. Some pro-choice forces have even sat down at the table with anti-choicers--to create a "civilized dialogue." That is a fool's game. You can't dialogue with fascism.

Straight-up, a fetus is a clump of human cells. A fetus is not a child, and abortion is not murder. This basic reality should not be something open to debate, and it should not be "radical" to say. Any approach that says there is compromise to be made here is saying that this issue is not about women's lives and the very future of this society.

As Bob Avakian, Chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, said in his book Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones,"The essence of the anti-abortion `movement'.has been to assert patriarchal control over women, including to insist on the defining role of women as breeders of children. The fundamentalist foot-soldiers of this `movement' make this very clear. The following prayer offered at an `Operation Rescue' rally, cited in Life magazine (July 1992), typifies this: `Oh please, Lord, break the curse on women's hearts that says we don't need our men. Break that independence.'" (Excerpts from the book are available online at rwor.org/chair_e.htm#preachingfrom)

Marriage and Morality

Although, in a society like the U.S. today, literal slavery is no longer upheld and women are not literally (or legally) treated as the property of men, the exploitation of labor, the subjugation of Black people and other "minorities," and the oppression of women remain integral and indispensable parts of the prevailing system. And it is not surprising that, in the face of changes which tend to undermine or cause upheaval within that system--to say nothing of direct challenges to it--the ruling class of this society more aggressively asserts the authority of its "traditional morality" along with sharpening and more ruthlessly wielding its sword of repression.

Bob Avakian, Preaching from a Pulpit of Bones

In mid-February, Bush called for rewriting the U.S. Constitution with an amendment that would permanently define marriage as only between "a man and a woman."

It is interesting to see how the culture war has focused up around the definition of marriage and the question of what kind of love is valid or "natural." There has clearly been a concerted effort to have these relations more openly defined in conservative, biblical terms, reaffirming women as the property of men and cutting off direct challenges to that.

All through the history of class society (since the emergence of wealth and private property), marriage has taken the form of men dominating women and their children. (The word family actually comes from the ancient Roman term famulus,which was a man's total collection of wives, children, servants, and slaves, over which he exercised the power of life and death.)

Patriarchy is both ancient and traditional--and Bush wasn't joking when he said marriage is "the most fundamental institution of civilization" and talked about gay marriage as a "threat" to the homeland. Religious fundamentalists like him really believe in these things--with all the scary connotations. By attacking gay marriage, Bush is giving marching orders to his extreme social base, for whom gay marriage is an "abomination" and "sin," and to an apparatus of political operatives. Let's not forget Matthew Shepard from Laramie, Wyoming, who was tortured and killed in 1998 because he was gay.

As the RW analyzed in the article "Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment: Tightening Tradition's Chains" (#1231, 3/7/04), the proposed amendment represents a view that there is far too much freedom and change in the U.S. today--and that strict, narrow, conservative norms need to be written right into the Constitution, where they would be beyond the reach of future laws, court decisions, and a changing culture.

The current talk of "protecting" traditional marriage is, in essence, a demand that a particular modern, patriarchal, man-dominated form of family must be strengthened in the U.S.--including by enforcing anti-gay discrimination and other harsh new actions by the state.

Shattering Tradition's Chains
What Should We Aim For? What's Desirable and Possible?

What is the fundamental cause and source of patriarchy, male supremacy, and the oppression of women? It is the system. This oppression is rooted in the division of society into classes, into exploiter and exploited, and the whole "web" of oppressive social relations that is bound up with the division of society into classes. And in today's world, the oppression of women is completely bound up with the nature and functioning of the capitalist-imperialist system.

Bob Avakian, "The Role of Women:Two Fundamentally Different Views:
The Reactionary Bourgeoisie and the Revolutionary Proletariat"

We have a situation where a significant movement promoting traditional values is growing--and simultaneously, from a number of angles and among various sectors of the population in the U.S., the basis of the traditional patriarchal family values associated with it has been significantly eroded. But we are still living in the same system with its foundation of capitalist economic relations that require patriarchy. This is a major contradiction that is coming to a head and will be resolved one way or the other.

Chairman Avakian has talked about how this is potentially a very explosive contradiction. It is vitally important for those who preside over this system to "contain" this contradiction and not to allow it to tear society apart. They don't want a situation where great numbers of women--including many professional and other middle class women--are being driven into radical opposition to the status quo.

But those of us who dream of a different society want that kind of situation! We want to unleash women- -and men--to completely tear down those ancient traditions of patriarchy. It is possible--and it is necessary!--to dream of a future society where men and women can freely relate and interact on the basis of true mutual respect and fight together for real liberation. To envision new forms of intimacy and family that are liberated from the ugly traditional oppression and submission of the past. And we need to actually set our sights on this future!

As these contradictions in today's society get sharper, how will they be dealt with? How will they get resolved? We don't want to soften the edges of these contradictions. We want to strain against them, pushing and pulling against the limits--but with what aims?

I grew up admiring the women of the generations of the 1960s and 1970s who spearheaded the fight to make abortion legal and accessible. I used to read about women who formed underground networks to provide abortions when it was illegal. I heard about women who went through back-alley or self-induced abortions with coat hangers.

I admired those women who fought for abortion rights, because they were doing this with their eyes set on liberation . That word rolled off many of their tongues with great passion and determination.

Why has the idea of liberation become nothing more than an ill-conceived, lost hope to so many today? Why has the pro-choice movement turned its focus so much lower--to only the legal, legislative, and electoral arenas?

Growing up--seeing the right to abortion come under increasing attack and seeing many from my generation thinking of abortion as a "necessary evil" or a source of shame and guilt--I searched for answers to where the dream of liberation went. I often felt like a restless scream trapped in a vacuum, unable to be heard. I was frustrated by the constant barrage of voices telling me which were the "legitimate" ways to fight. I was told to not offend people, to not be "unrealistic." I was advised to make my voice heard by entering into the system itself, as a lawyer or politician.

But then I saw how Clinton--with his "safe, legal, but rare" motto--destroyed abortion rights even more than Reagan. And I saw that there were many people who actually needed to be offended because the very idea of women as human beings is offensive to them.

Eventually my quest brought me to this paper, for which I'm now writing. I finally learned that the dream for women's liberation was not just a dream, and that revolution is at the very heart of it. The very government and superstructure that are in place exist to maintain these oppressive relations--between men and women, dominant and oppressed nationalities, ruling class and exploited. They promote a specific culture, morality, and ideology that have patriarchy coursing through their veins. So the idea of leaving these very structures in place, never mind relying on them, is a dangerous folly and ultimately leaves us in our chains.

Women can become a powerful material force for revolution because, as Chairman Avakian has said, they are constantly subjected to--and repeatedly rise up against--male supremacist domination and oppression. But this can only happen through a proletarian revolution. The proletariat is the exploited class in society, those with nothing to lose but their chains.

And, to quote Chairman Avakian again, just as women can become a powerful part of this revolution, "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."

It can't just be a question of making our voices heard and hoping somebody somewhere does something with them. We have to become a wrench in the very spokes of this system--a material force of men and women with our sights set on liberation of all humanity. Proletarian revolution and communism are not forgotten dreams or ill-fated ideals that don't work in practice. The reality is, and history shows, that society can be reshaped. Once you overthrow the existing order, the old ideas and morality that go with it can be overthrown as well. In the course of waging revolution and transforming the world, men and women begin to transform themselves and the way they look at each other. When you begin to see the underlying relations of exploitation and oppression, you begin to see how they can be ended.

When the masses of people have control over society, no longer will the views that see women as weaker or inferior be tolerated. The billboards and other media that use women's bodies as sex objects or pieces of property to sell merchandise will come down. Rape will be severely punished--but more than that, the causes and eventually even the existence of rape will be eliminated. People will be unleashed to get rid of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. Even the ideas that see the genders as totally different and separate may cease to exist.

All this can happen once the proletariat -- who actually has an interest in creating a world like this -- has seized power and is struggling to transform and revolutionize all society, as part of bringing the whole world toward communism.