My Dinner with Engels and Skybreak

Learning to Understand the World, For Real!

June 8, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

Past weekend Revolution Books, one of the best bookstores in the world, was having a fundraising weekend as part of the first phase of raising money to save the bookstore and moved it to a new location. A big part of this weekend was a three day open mic—performances and a big used book sale. A group of people after the first day of performances went out to have dinner and chat, the night had been fun and powerful in different ways, and we were about to continue with that energy.

Some of us had recently gone to see a play called Nirbhaya. Nirbhaya tells the story of different women who have been raped and abused, but who kept the suffering to themselves for decades. It wasn’t until the big uprisings of people when a woman was raped, tortured and killed by several man in a bus in New Delhi that a lot of women, including the actors in the play, were able to tell their stories, and unleash their fury to do something meaningful with that outrage.

So one of the people brought the topic of the play back, saying that she didn’t think we could talk too much of it. And she was right.

The reason why women are viewed and treated as less than human beings came up as a fundamental question. In the context of the fight against black people oppression, the understanding that oppression of black people in this country is so profoundly link to its very foundation, and is an essential part of keeping the current order of things, in that context we were wondering where does this oppression of women comes from.

Right after that question was posted, we were wrangling with our own ideas of how and why did women end up in the position of breeders, reduced to sex objects and property. We, a group of 6 women, from different ages, backgrounds and nationalities, and different levels of understanding were digging into history, society development and biology to solve this question.

I have been reading the interview of Ardea Skybreak about Science and Revolution, and I felt like we were about to apply the scientific approach she talks about there. I can’t put in words how excited I was when we started thinking about where all of this oppression comes from, because I knew we, from our understanding, were going to start looking for those patterns underneath the surface, right there, at a sushi place. We were doing the mental work that takes to really understand anything, and not just to go along with something we read or hear, but actually do the work and understand it. I was excited cause I agree with Skybreak that we need that approach to be able to understand the world we live in, but I have been struggling in how to go about it, how to gain that method and be able to use it. Even by having worked with science in academics, I was never introduced to the scientific method as Skybreak talks in the interview. You can imagine how exciting it was to know we were about to do that, to apply that method at a certain level, to understand this phenomenon. (I say a certain level cause of course you need more than a conversation to understand all the different aspects of this particular issue of women’s oppression.) Revolution Books is the kind of place where people who have been studying and understanding society go to discuss ideas and built a movement to change the world, people that have studied how society works and how it could be different, people who have learned to apply the scientific method. So we were at this dinner with the support of more experienced and knowledgeable people who could direct us in the right direction in order to be able to find some of those underneath patterns.

It was very interesting hearing everybody’s ideas, going back to primitive societies, and trying to find out why at some point women and man diverged from a more egalitarian relation to a more dominative and property based relation. I have read before in Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, by Frederick Engels, that it happened with the emergence of classes divisions. I was not sure to be able to sketch out Engels’ discovery, because coming from a different country I don’t trust my English skills very often, so I mentioned it and suggested somebody to explain more in detail what that meant. But no! That is not how revolutionaries go about things! I was encouraged to say what I knew, and I remember being nervous, because I read that book in Spanish, and was about to explain some of it in English. The thing is that I should try and did so, it took me a while to put my ideas together and to be able to make sense, but some how I did it, and people were getting into it. We talked about how after primitive societies started to have a production surplus, they could exchange that surplus for other products with other communities, also there was the possibility for some people to appropriate that surplus (emergence of class division). That way the concept of ownership was born and with it the need to control who will inherit what in the next generation. Who would inherit property and who would inherited what class position―what children were going to be part of one class or another, what children were going to be rulers or be ruled over. In other words, it became important to know whose were the children being born. And to know that, women’s sexuality had to be controlled and women themselves were turned into property. This is a very complex process, and of course I am making it very flat and kind of simple but there were all kinds of things going on at the time. Sunsara Taylor went further drawing some important points and explaining what was happening in some of those societies at the time were class divisions emerged.

There were two specific things that really made an impact on me that were discussed that night.

When primitive communities provided enough wealth to meet the basic needs of their people, even when it was enough for everybody to survive, there wasn’t enough for everybody to have abundance in a way that could have allowed them to dedicate part of their time to explore the world for other purposes than their own subsistence (for example wonder about different phenomenon and try to understand them, develop knowledge, etc). Because of the way things were being produced, it wasn’t possible to provide abundance to everybody, instead, it was possible that the appropriation by some people of some of the wealth being produced, would free some of them from working with their hands, and allow them to work in the ideas sphere. That division of labor made possible for first time in history the development of all kinds of knowledge (for example time to look out to the space and develop astronomy, or the creation of writing, or people dedicated to the arts, etc). I have probably heard this before, but this wrangling and wondering, really helped me understand it in a different way. And with this “revelation” the understanding of the possibility of a world without classes came along. Because of the technology and capacity of production we have now, there is the capacity to meet the basic needs of humanity and at the same time to allow the flourishing of people in their whole capacities as humans!!! I can’t imagine how exciting was for Marx and Engels to find out all the things they found, and all the possibilities that opened up with those discoveries! And I may be exaggerating but I think I felt just like them that night.

Sampler Edition       Full Work

Once we talked for a while about the origin of women’s oppression, and how it was rooted with the division of societies in classes, there was an statement made, that because of that, to get rid of it, we have to get rid of a society divided in classes. And yes I want to live in a society where classes not longer exist, but I was thinking on the veracity of that statement. I really wanted to understand it and not just accepted because it sounded right. So I asked why can’t we eliminate this oppression in a world with classes? I wanted to think about how would that world look like, but I couldn’t think of a way to do that. Again, people involved in the bookstore helped us out and suggested us to imagine a world where there was not important to know whose are the kids of the world. A world where it is not important to know who are the fathers of the children being born. And the place where this question took us, blew my mind even further.

The statement made all the sense then, because first of all, if there wasn’t important who your father is there is not way to know which class you are going to be part of. Let’s say your father is part of one class, it doesn’t necessarily would mean that the kid being born was going to be in that class, just because WE WOULDN’T EVEN KNOW WHOSE KID WAS THAT, so how would you determine which kid is going to be part of one class or another? It just doesn’t work, that society can’t be. You can’t have a society where it doesn’t matter who is the father of the children being born and at the same time have classes. In that sense if you want to have classes, you have to control motherhood, therefore you can’t have women fully emancipated if we don’t get rid of class division! The whole concept of family then, wouldn’t work either, family wouldn’t really exist. If we think for example in a world where nobody can’t claim the property of anything, and because a family right now is an economic group with properties and belongings, I wonder if in a society in which nobody have the right to claim something as a property, I wonder if there would be families at all? Something to dig into, to wonder, and to do the mental work, another opportunity to learn how and apply a scientific method and approach and take it even further using that approach to change the world.

Another thing I have been thinking about is all the different approaches and understanding that people have when they talk about revolution. There are a lot of things that people mean when they use that word that not necessarily has to do with really getting rid of all forms of oppression. No very long ago I was told by someone in “the Left” that because BA didn’t talk about “the working class” enough—“which is the international class that is going to carry this revolution,” said the person—his vision is not viable to make a revolution. It sticked in my mind and I have to deepen more in theory to understand the role of the proletariat and the other classes, and all the diversity that exists within the other classes in this revolution, all those other forms of oppression that not necessarily have to do with the class you are in, but there was something that we talked that night that gave us some lights about this issue. We were talking about how in the communist movement there was a basic understanding of women’s liberation, but you could find the tendency of thinking that such a liberation would happen by dealing just with the economic sphere, meaning that changing the economic system will bring the liberation of women. And then I understood why BA doesn’t just talk about the workers, but about ALL OPPRESSED, and that women’s oppression is so deeply rooted in this society and the division of it in classes that you can’t get rid of it just by changing the economic system, it has to be fought now, during socialism, and all the way to finally get to a communist world, free of classes and clean of women’s oppression. And this is an understanding that BA has brought forward with the new synthesis of communism. So very much needed if you think about it!

It is important for people to do the mental work and to come to understand this things, to enable people with this tool of science, and use it to understand why and how a whole different radical world is possible. That is what Revolution Books is about. This is a place that brings people together to wrangle with ideas, and to enable more and more people to learn and use this method, to enable people to be part of changing everything. This is the place you should go if you want to be part of that transformation, and is the place you have to support and help save now!



Break ALL the Chains! Bob Avakian on the Emancipation of Women and the Communist Revolution

Science and Revolution: On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian, an interview with Ardea Skybreak

A Declaration: For Women’s Liberation and the Emancipation of all Humanity

End Pornography and Patriarchy: The Enslavement and Degradation of Women

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