Abortion, Women’s Rights and Revolution

Shattering the Chains of Female Enslavement—and the Emancipation of All Humanity

Editors’ note: Recently a group of people and organizations from Iran and Afghanistan hosted an online forum on the liberation of women. This took place just after the first anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and after a year of Taliban rule, which has removed women from public life, secondary education and any travel without the accompaniment of a male chaperone under theocratic Sharia law. Speakers at this online forum came from different perspectives on how to see the problem of women’s oppression and the possible solutions, exchanged views and expressed their desire for ways for this international struggle to be connected. 

Posted here is the speech from Toni RedTree speaking for revcom.us. Others speakers included Shirin Mazedi from OSYAN (OSYAN means rebellion in Farsi), an organization of rebellious women from Iran and Afghanistan; two activists from Afghanistan; and Hoda Khamoosh, who has been in the heart of the recent struggle for women’s rights in Afghanistan and had recently left the country, and Naji Afshar—both spoke to the situation of women in Afghanistan and internationally. Toni RedTree’s speech was slightly edited for clarity for publication.

The right to abortion in the U.S. has now become a major battle, and the organization Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights has stepped up to take on this fight. I will be speaking to what is happening with the reversal of this basic right and how we see this question in relation to the urgent need for revolution—but first to step back and give some background.

Bob Avakian - unbelievable as it may seem...

 

I came into political life in the late 1960s in the U.S., and one of the formative moments for me was being part of re-introducing International Women’s Day in the U.S. in the 1970s, after decades of political repression in the U.S. Those decades were also famous for the exaltation of traditional gender roles in the advertising and TV shows we grew up on, with titles like Father Knows Best that shaped and mirrored the lives of our mothers. I count myself very lucky to have been there when Bob Avakian and the organization he led at that time revived this international communist holiday in the U.S.

This was a time when women were widely suffering from a problem that a bourgeois second wave feminist—and I will give her her due—referred to as a problem “that had no name,” until the women’s liberation movement emerged. We wanted so much more than being the domestic servants our mothers were—the whole world was in upheaval and we wanted to be part of all of it. Everything, including intimate social relations, was under scrutiny and rapid change.

Due to the social upheaval of the 1960s and ’70s—the Vietnam War and the struggle of Black people and other social movements like the women’s liberation movement—as well as changes in science, technology and the economy where the capitalist mode of production needed more women in its expansion—abortion was legalized, and innovations in contraception became widely available for the first time in history. Biology was no longer destiny. Women could plan when to have a family, if this was what she wanted. While this did not change in any fundamental way the fact that domestic tasks and taking care of the children still fell overwhelmingly on women in the family, these changes not just in the U.S. but all over the world have in a matter of five decades put under tremendous strain the patriarchal family with its thousands of years of patriarchal tradition.

Ever since the 1960s in the U.S. when women won these basic rights and stepped beyond the boundaries of the patriarchal family, the forces of reaction have been gathering strength and plotting their revenge. We are living at a moment in human history where the future for women is being sprung into the air and sharply contended—worldwide.

Look around the world. Look at the fury of women who refuse to be pushed out of school and public life by the Taliban; the developing defiance towards compulsory enforcement of the hijab in Iran that threatens the legitimacy of the IRI [Islamic Republic of Iran]; the women in India and Mexico who have been pitched into the world’s sweatshops and the related epidemic of femicide—women who in the last two years filled the city plazas and village squares with defiant dances condemning the state as the rapist. In historically Catholic countries from Ireland to South America, women are winning the right to abortion—just as it’s under assault in places where women once had this right in countries like Poland and the U.S.

Warsaw-10-31-twitter-600px.jpg

 

Hundreds of thousands of women took to the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities and towns in outraged protest against an October 22, 2020, decree by the Constitutional Tribunal banning abortion.    Photo: Twitter

Women with banner protest attacks on abortion in Mexico.

 

In Mexico, women took to the streets in many cities to protest attacks on abortion rights.    Photo:  Aurora Roja blog/Yazmín Ortega Cortés, La Jornada

All over the world half of humanity is in a state of seething anger, with increasingly frequent outbursts of resistance and rebellion.

Celebratory march in Argentina for abortion rights.

 

Argentina, 2020: Thousands took to the streets in Buenos Aires for abortion rights.    Photo: AP

Which way will it go? It’s not inevitable that we will win—nor, as it often seems to so many people, is it true that there is no way to stop all the forces pushing women back centuries. We are standing at a precipice where you can actually see on the other side of this great chasm the basis to get to the other side—to get beyond this outmoded, utterly ridiculous and unnecessary form of oppression.

From the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic of North America—authored by Bob Avakian:

The oppression of women arose together with the emergence of exploitative class divisions among human beings thousands of years ago, has been carried forward and become deeply entrenched in all societies ruled by exploiting classes, and was a marked feature of the imperialist United States of America and its domination and influence in the world. Abolishing and uprooting all this is one of the most important objectives of the New Socialist Republic in North America. This is expressed not only in full legal equality between women and men, but beyond that in the declared orientation and policy of this Republic to overcome all “tradition’s chains” embodied in traditional gender roles and divisions, and all the oppressive relations bound up with this, in every sphere of society, and to enable women, as fully as men, to take part in and contribute to every aspect of the struggle to transform society, and the world, in order to uproot and abolish all relations of oppression and exploitation and emancipate humanity as a whole.

Bob Avakian has broken new ground in the realm of communist theory—both in the dialectics of his analysis of how the oppression of women and the struggle against it relate to the underlying capitalist mode of production, and in the emphasis that he gives to the importance of this struggle in fighting for a socialist revolution; and in the vital role that the continuing struggle to root out this oppression can play as a driving force in further revolutionizing society, and in keeping society on the socialist road after power has been seized.

Getting to the other side of this chasm to a new and radically different state powerbrought about through a revolution where the old state power has been defeated and dismantled—is not just some utopian dream.

The basis for revolution lies in the very contradictions of the capitalist-imperialist system. The ruthless anarchic nature of capitalist competition has driven capitalism to the ends of the earth in the rush to super-exploit labor and plunder the planet. Capitalist globalization has not only changed the experience, expectations and outlook of billions of women who are now out of the box,” it’s thrown all the old traditional social relations into chaos. The traditional patriarchal family is in many ways in shambles. In the U.S. by 2017, married women accounted for almost 40 percent of mothers whose earnings were the primary support for their families.1

The ruling classes have no real answer for what the driving forces of their own system have wrought. The capitalist mode of production needs the family as a basic social unit and cornerstone of capitalist society where the family is not only the means through which people are reproduced, sheltered, fed, clothed, loved and cared for—it is from the cradle where people are socialized, where traditional values and gender roles are modeled, instilled and reinforced.

Since the mid-’80s Bob Avakian has been specifically calling attention to the fact that, with the changes in the U.S. and the world economy:

The whole question of the position and role of women in society is more and more acutely posing itself in today’s extreme circumstances—this is a powderkeg in the U.S. today….

And

It is not conceivable that all this will find any resolution other than in the most radical terms and through extremely violent means. The question yet to be determined is: will it be a radical reactionary or a radical revolutionary resolution, will it mean the reinforcing of the chains of enslavement or the shattering of the most decisive links in those chains and the opening up of the possibility of realizing the complete elimination of all forms of such enslavement.

Nearly 40 years later, we can see how prescient these theoretical predictions were. In the U.S., fascists have captured one of the major ruling class parties, been installed throughout the judiciary, and now have a majority in the Supreme Court.

The Christian fascists who believe that all this freedom for women has gone too far are moving at full speed to impose forced motherhood in the country as a whole. GOP governors are competing with each other to see who can pass the cruelest, most draconian anti-abortion legislation. Powerful forces have raised a fascist movement whipped up to an insane frenzy and willing to go to extreme lengths to shove women back into their biblical place of obedience and submission.

For the Christian theocratic movement abortion has always been a linchpin and battering ram for a fascist triad of undisguised and unrestrained white supremacy, male supremacy and patriotic imperialist chauvinism. They want to take their revenge on women but also revenge for the patriotism and masculinity in the service of militarism that took such a beating in the 1960s. There is a coherence to their insanity.

In the U.S., abortion has become a prelude to civil war, with a ruling class and the whole country deeply divided. After the Supreme Court decision, abortion is about to become illegal in 26 states—with battles shaping up over other basic rights like the right to travel to another state to get an abortion. Bills are moving through state legislatures over being able to prosecute and sue people from “pro-choice states” who aided an abortion. The decision opened up the legal precedent for getting rid of contraception and gay marriage and to criminalize gay sex. Eighteen states have introduced legislation to put religiously driven restrictions on divorce in what are called “covenant marriages.” Very powerful ruling class interests see this as their last chance to save America—and a fascist fanatical social base is itching for civil war. This is a very high stakes struggle going on where the most powerful imperialist country in the world is deeply divided and being split apart. The Democrats have very different views on how to maintain and cohere the empire and are trying to hold the country together, while the Republicans are going all out to tear up the norms, institutions and the ways the country has been ruled for more than a century.

This is leading—if the fascists prevail—to something truly horrendous and not just for people here—but that is not the only possible resolution of this crisis. It is also the kind of rare and extraordinary situation out of which a revolution—something that is not possible all the time in powerful countries like the U.S.—becomes more possible. It is with the whole world in mind and in our hearts that we are taking up the strategy and roadmap for revolution that has been brought forward by Bob Avakian.

Part of that strategy is recognizing not only the role the woman question is playing in the profound crisis of capitalism but the powerful propelling force the fury of women is for the positive outcome of the two possibilities before us captured in the title of a new work “Something Terrible, Or Something Truly Emancipating: Profound Crisis, Deepening Divisions, The Looming Possibility of Civil War—And The Revolution That Is Urgently Needed. A Necessary Foundation, A Basic Roadmap For This Revolution.” As an application of the strategy and roadmap, BA has been giving leadership to seeing the importance of this battle for abortion rights—whether women are going to be treated as fully human and what direction the radical resolution of this will take. This included the battle to prevent those rights from being taken away—while most of the so called “left” and all those entwined with and dependent on the Democratic Party conceded defeat even before the fact.

Something Terrible or Something Truly Emancipating - Square, wo "NEW"

 

Last winter Sunsara Taylor along with Merle Hoffman, the director of Choices, an abortion clinic in New York City, and Lori Sokol, head of the feminist platform Women’s eNews, initiated a call for women to fill the streets in order to create the kind of political polarization that would prevent the Supreme Court overturning the constitutional right to abortion. They raised the specific demands of “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology,” “Forced Motherhood Is Female Enslavement” and “Post Roe—Hell No!” After the Supreme Court decision, they raised the demand that the federal government restore the right to abortion. They put out a call to unite everybody who could be united to mobilize in the streets and every public arena to defend the right to abortion.

Youth lead march at RU4AR New York City.

 

New York City youth lead RU4AR march, May 14.    Photo: revcom.us

With recognition of the rare times we are living in, the Revcoms put the urgent need for revolution before people while also mobilizing the masses to fight against this attack—outside the limits set by other forces and programs who were accepting the defeat of Roe. Bob Avakian wrote a series of articles that waged ferocious struggle with the lines and outlook that are not confronting the fascist direction of society and contributing to the hold of the system over how too many people are thinking and acting.2

The struggle called for by Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights was not joined by the breadth of political forces and sections of society that were needed to succeed in preventing the court from overturning Roe—but it was joined by tens of thousands of people in the streets in weeks of mass protest and nonviolent civil disobedience that disrupted society and became known and looked to by many millions of people.

For this—Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights, Sunsara Taylor, the Revcoms, and especially Bob Avakian have come under attack. The day after the outrageous decision, so-called “reproductive rights groups” trained their ire and energies not on the Court or the fascist movement but on those who had called for people to rise up to prevent this. They have tried to delegitimize the movement, including by making the baseless charge that it is a front for a “cult” and a pyramid scheme to funnel funds raised for Rise Up to Revcom. A disinformation campaign has migrated from a few so-called “progressive” websites to fascist and police websites. These are serious attacks where there is a history of these kind of slanders placed in the mass media becoming the pretexts used for government investigation and repression.

Rise Up 4 Abortion Rights has answered these attacks in a series of statements. The Revcoms, in defense of the revolutionary leadership of BA, have gone on the offensive to expose the purpose of this slander and to challenge the prejudices and brainwash that hold people captive to the system that rules over them. People from different political perspectives are going on record writing letters to testify to the important role Rise Up has played, and to the rare kind of leader BA is—his history and work over decades and the qualitative breakthroughs he has made in the science of revolution.

So we encourage people to write themselves and weigh in on this battle—which has impact beyond the U.S. The advances in communist theory that Bob Avakian continues to make, including on this question, belong to and are important for the whole world.

While this battle in defense of leadership continues—turning this attempt to stop us into many more people getting to know BA—the Revcoms will not to be deterred from continuing to lead this fight for abortion rights and the emancipation of women which is far from over and which may well play a decisive role in the revolution that is profoundly and urgently needed.

To return to the theme of this presentation: Contrary to the belief that the oppression of women is some god-given—permanent state of existence—the liberation of half of humanity from thousands of years of oppressive traditions—indispensable to the emancipation of all humanity…. this is on the scales for resolution in a truly emancipating way. Not in some far off future but NOW!

From 
Six Resolutions of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA
January 1, 2016

As BA has said:

There is an urgent need for this new synthesis to be taken up, broadly, in this society and in the world as a whole: everywhere people are questioning why things are the way they are, and whether a different world is possible; everywhere people are talking about “revolution” but have no real understanding of what revolution means, no scientific approach to analyzing and dealing with what they are up against and what needs to be done; everywhere people are rising up in rebellion but are hemmed in, let down and left to the mercy of murderous oppressors, or misled onto paths which only reinforce, often with barbaric brutality, the enslaving chains of tradition; everywhere people need a way out of their desperate conditions, but do not see the source of their suffering and the path forward out of the darkness.

_______________

FOOTNOTES:

1. “In a substantial number of families with children, mothers, whether single or partnered, are now the primary breadwinner. More than 40 percent of American mothers solely or primarily support their minor children through their own earnings in any given year. For most of the 20th century, except in wartime, says historian Stephanie Coontz, women who were the primary source of their children’s income were generally unmarried, divorced, or widowed. But for the past two decades, the most rapid growth in breadwinning mothers has been among partnered women. As late as 2000, only 15 percent of primary-earning mothers were married. But by 2017, married women accounted for almost 40 percent of mothers whose earnings were the primary support for their families,” (from “Mothers Are the Primary Earners in Growing Numbers of Families with Children,” Council on Contemporary Families, November 2, 2021 [back]

2. ”With the recognition of this rare time when revolution becomes (more) possible: wield the forces for revolution now to impact masses of people, in all parts of society—bringing to people the message of revolution, especially in short, powerful and popular forms, both online and “in real life”—setting forth why this revolution is necessary, and is possible, and how to be part of working to make it a reality. In hard-hitting, compelling ways, carry out ferocious struggle against ways of thinking that keep people chained to this system, winning growing numbers to break with all that, while also mobilizing masses of people to fight against injustices and outrages that are continually committed under this system and to stand up against the forces that perpetrate and enforce these injustices and outrages. Spread far and wide the inspiring vision of how much better life could be, for the great majority of people, if millions of people got behind this revolution and carried it through—making it possible to restructure all of society on a completely different foundation, with a radically different economic system (mode of production) and emancipating relations among people, as spelled out very concretely in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian.” (from “Organizing for an Actual Revolution: 7 Key Points”) [back]

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