In two major articles already on anti-imperialism.org, we have defined in a preliminary way how we conceive of Global People’s War, and what we consider to be the basic role of revolutionaries in imperialist countries today. The theory of Global People’s War and what role First Worlders are to play in it of course needs to be further elaborated and systematized, something which we hope to achieve going forward. Helping us in this process has been some good critical discussion about Global People’s War from comrades around the communist movement. We have received some questions and criticism that bear addressing. But first, let us briefly summarize the crux of Global People’s War, to refresh our memories.
In light of the fact that the principal contradiction globally today remains that between imperialism and the oppressed nations, and considering how this contradiction has shaped the terrain of class struggle both in the imperialist nations and oppressed nations, we hold that the course of revolution will progress essentially from the peripheral oppressed nations to the imperialist core. As Lin Biao put it in Long Live the Victory of People’s War,
Since World War II, the proletarian revolutionary movement has for various reasons been temporarily held back in the North American and West European capitalist countries, while the people’s revolutionary movement in Asia, Africa and Latin America has been growing vigorously. In a sense, the contemporary world revolution also presents a picture of the encirclement of cities by the rural areas. In the final analysis, the whole cause of world revolution hinges on the revolutionary struggles of the Asian, African and Latin American peoples who make up the overwhelming majority of the world’s population.
This stance could be easily misinterpreted, however. We do not argue, as some have implied, that we simply sit on our hands in the First World while leaving it up to the workers of the Third World to make revolution for us. We of course recognize that any revolutionary organizing in the First World will run into the problem of the large labor aristocracy and larger petty bourgeoisie in imperialist centers, who are unlikely to join a revolutionary cause in large numbers, and that our theory and practice must adapt to these conditions. Nevertheless, quietism is thoroughly counter-revolutionary. Instead, we see the primary task for First World revolutionaries as the struggle to aid revolution in the Third World by undermining imperialism from within the belly of the beast in whatever way we can. Plainly, revolutionaries in the First World must see their struggles firmly as part of the global struggle to defeat capitalist-imperialism, and the aims and goals of the First World communist movement must align themselves with the aims and goals of the global communist movement. We stress this because imperialism has created a division within the global working class that has a material, economic basis, and leads the wealthiest segments of the working class, primarily concentrated in the First World, to be prone to defending capital.
This is all well and good. It could be argued, however, that our theory is simply a reassertion of proletarian internationalism. That is not entirely wrong. One might also wonder: if we believe the primary task for First Worlders is to undermine imperialism from where they live, what is the basis upon which we Third Worldists demarcate ourselves from other communists, who also see themselves as struggling against imperialism?
In the first place, we recognize that there are organizations in the imperialist core who do good work and have done things which have objectively advanced anti-imperialist struggle. Here, we encourage communists to continue this work and expand upon it, to build as broad a united front as possible within the belly of the beast to undermine imperialism. We of course stress that such a united front must be based on a clear understanding of who our enemies and friends are, i.e. a realistic appraisal of class structure and general conditions. A united front which is built on opportunistic principles will not ultimately be effective and could even be extremely dangerous. But generally speaking, anti-imperialist struggle is an arena in which current practice can be expanded and there can be much broader unity in struggle than there is currently within the First World. Thus we need to continue to organize on this front and find new ways of drawing people into the struggle.
Yet, in a united front, an organization must retain its independence if there are meaningful differences to be had between organizations. Simply liquidating oneself for the sake of “unity” is completely unprincipled. And on the other hand, if there aren’t meaningful differences to be had between organizations, then it is pure sectarianism for them to remain separate and independent. So, it is imperative that we make clear on what points we differ from most of the communist movement. From there, we can begin to understand what a principled united front will look like.
Who are the masses?
Integral to Maoism is the concept of the mass line. Put short, this is a method through which a communist organization synthesizes its political stances. The main idea is to listen to and learn from “the masses,” concentrate their ideas into a concrete theory and strategy, and to feed this theory/strategy back to “the masses” for them to act upon. Ideally, this process happens again and again, and over its course, correct ideas are concentrated into the party’s theory and practice, and incorrect ideas are effectively purged.
One of the most important keys to the success of the mass line is, unsurprisingly, a correct appraisal of who precisely counts among “the masses.” If it is to be meaningful at all, “the masses” can only be a strategic category. It is not a metaphysical group with some universal, transhistorical composition. As communists, we are aiming for the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as an instrument through which classes will eventually be abolished and communism achieved. Thus, “the masses” for us must apply only to that group of people which is capable of achieving victory for the proletariat in revolution. “The masses” are therefore those who are dominated and excluded from the spoils of the current order by a hegemonic class, who thus have a material interest in the overthrow of the present system, and who therefore effectively engage in class struggle on the side of the proletariat, or can be won over to that cause. This last distinction is important because, depending on how we look at things, we could theoretically conceive of everyone in capitalist society as having some material interest in the abolition of capitalism (for example, nobody wants to live in the toxic wasteland that Earth may become should capitalism continue indefinitely). Yet social practice is what ultimately counts. A group cannot be considered part of “the masses” if it consistently fights to maintain the current order of the world. In short, “the masses” ultimately reveal who they are in the course of struggle.
If the aim of communists is victory for the proletariat in revolution, then clearly, our conception of “the masses” must include at minimum the basic proletariat. It is rather uncontroversial (and rightly so) among Marxists that the process of synthesizing a line capable of guiding the proletariat to victory must be driven by the proletariat itself. Moreover the proletariat must exercise leadership in the revolution. This is because it is only the proletariat which is exploited under capitalism, i.e. the proletariat as a class performs more labor than it receives in return, a necessary condition for the generation of profit. The continuation of the capitalist system necessarily means the continued domination of the proletariat’s waking life and the continued emiseration of the workers. Moreover, the proletariat, with its place in society firmly routed in direct production, is the only class which is poised to facilitate the abolition of classes generally after it attains hegemony; in other words, proletarian leadership is the path to communism. On this, we are hopefully all agreed.
However, “the masses” is not a category that need only apply to the proletariat. Although communist revolution is, in the last instance, a struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, whether they belong to the proletariat or not is not the only determinant in whether a segment of society finds itself fighting on the side of the proletariat in revolutionary struggle. For example, members of the petty-bourgeoisie or even the haute-bourgeoisie have played important roles in communist revolutions historically, albeit primarily on the condition that they renounced their own class interest and became class traitors. More crucially though, we must understand how the contradiction between capital and labor (between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat) interplays with other contradictions.
In the age of imperialism, the contradiction between capital and labor is mediated by the contradiction between imperialist nations and oppressed nations. As Mao Zedong famously noted, in the oppressed nations the petty-bourgeoisie, and even a section of the bourgeoisie (which Mao called the “national bourgeoisie”), end up having an antagonistic relationship to imperialism. They are dominated by imperialism, and thus fight against it to defend their own interests. In their struggle against imperialism, the petty-bourgeoisie and national bourgeoisie in oppressed nations find common ground with the proletariat. Indeed, as Mao argued, these groups must unite with the proletariat (and submit to proletarian leadership!) if they wish to fight off imperialism, as the proletariat is the only class truly capable of leading an effective, all-around struggle against imperialism. For this reason, along with an analysis that in semi-feudal societies the peasantry are the greatest potential ally of the proletariat, Mao concluded in China during the revolution that “the masses” (those elements fighting on the side of the proletariat, or could be won over to that struggle) constituted the vast majority of China’s population.
Others, such as Chen Boda, put forward the thesis that these developments among others—then known as “Mao Zedong Thought”—were universal for oppressed nations. Today, the Maoist tradition is wont to see Maoism as containing developments which are universal everywhere. If we are to successfully argue this, however, do we apply specific conclusions drawn by Mao and others to present conditions where we live, or do we apply the method behind these conclusions? We must of course choose the latter.
We would be wrong to suggest that imperialism mediates the contradiction between capital and labor only in the oppressed nations. In the imperialist core as well, the imperialist system alters the terrain of class struggle. This manifests in many ways. In the first place, there has been a continual decline in the amount of productive labor happening in imperialist countries, as productive labor gets shifted to the oppressed nations. Jobs in direct production are replaced with more technical positions (a shift from “blue collar” work to “white collar” work). Additionally, many who are ostensibly workers in the imperialist countries own capital outright, e.g. in the form of 401k’s and pensions, homes which can accrue in value and be sold as real estate, easy access to credit, and in some industries, the industries themselves are in fact owned largely by their workers. In short, the development of imperialism has led in the imperialist centers to a substantial increase in the size of the petty-bourgeoisie. Unlike the petty-bourgeoisie in oppressed nations, the imperialist petty-bourgeoisie has only been strengthened by imperialism. Though it would be foolish to suggest there are no contradictions between the petty-bourgeoisie and haute-bourgeosie, or that these contradictions never manifest in struggle between the petty-bourgeoisie and the ruling class, ultimately these contradictions are non-antagonistic. That is to say, at the end of the day the imperialist petty-bourgeoisie fights to attain a larger piece of the imperialist pie, not to challenge the system in any fundamental way.
Even within the ranks of the proletariat (those involved in direct production) and semi-proletariat (e.g. non-productive workers who, while they are not involved in direct production, still occupy a place at the bottom of the chain in the workplace), a significant stratum has benefited from imperialism. This stratum of workers has in fact benefited from imperialism to such an extent that they have become “alien to the proletariat as a class” (Lenin’s words). By this is meant the labor aristocracy.
The labor aristocracy are those among the working class whose size of earnings, mode of life, and overall outlook alienate them from the rest of the proletariat. As has been demonstrated historically, the labor aristocracy is a tool the bourgeoisie uses against the workers of oppressed nations. The labor aristocracy also serves the role of spreading chauvinism and opportunism throughout the labor movement. Again in Lenin’s words, the labor aristocracy is “the principal social (not military) prop of the bourgeoisie. For they are the real agents of the bourgeoisie in the working-class movement, the labour lieutenants of the capitalist class, real vehicles of reformism and chauvinism. In the civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie they inevitably, and in no small numbers. take the side of the bourgeoisie…”. This is not to suggest that there are no contradictions between the labor aristocracy and the bourgeoisie, nor that there is never any struggle between them. However, when the labor aristocracy does struggle with the bourgeoisie, it is generally in defense of the privileges it has attained at the expense of the oppressed nations and, like the petty-bourgeoisie, to attain a greater piece of the imperialist pie.
All of this must be taken into account when judging who counts among “the masses” in the imperialist countries. Clearly there is no significant section of the haute-bourgeoisie in imperialist countries which is committed to opposing imperialism. The petty-bourgeoisie also cannot be expected to struggle against capitalist-imperialism en masse. What is perhaps more controversial is whether or not labor aristocrats can be considered to be “the masses.” What we argue is a resounding no to that question, at least when we are speaking of the default position the labor aristocracy occupies. After all, “in the civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie [the labor aristocracy] inevitably, and in no small numbers, take the side of the bourgeoisie…” Moreover, attempts to take the labor aristocracy as “the masses” and to derive a “correct” line from them have historically and repeatedly resulted in social-democratic programs at best (see H.W. Edwards’ book Labor Aristocracy: Mass Base of Social Democracy). The default outlook of the labor aristocracy is one of fear of losing its position above the proletariat at large. This places them at odds with the struggles of the proletariat, and thus appealing to their interests can only be counter-revolutionary. Here is Lenin once again on the subject:
A revolution, as [Arthur Crispien, who Lenin is addressing] sees it, can be made only if it does not worsen the workers’ conditions “too much”. Is it permissible, in a Communist Party, to speak in a tone like this, I ask? This is the language of counter-revolution… We must tell the workers the very opposite of what Crispien has said. If, in desiring to prepare the workers for the dictatorship, one tells them that their conditions will not be worsened “too much”, one is losing sight of the main thing, namely, that it was by helping their “own” bourgeoisie to conquer and strangle the whole world by imperialist methods, with the aim of thereby ensuring better pay for themselves, that the labour aristocracy developed… [T]o tell the workers in the handful of rich countries where life is easier, thanks to imperialist pillage, that they must be afraid of “too great” impoverishment, is counter-revolutionary. It is the reverse that they should be told. The labour aristocracy that is afraid of sacrifices, afraid of “too great” impoverishment during the revolutionary struggle, cannot belong to the Party.
The labor aristocracy is not, by default, part of the masses, and knowing that, we should be clear about its size if we are to gauge who the masses are. We can get an order of magnitude by looking at the mode of life, size of earnings, and overall outlook of various strata of workers in imperialist nations, as well as noting which side these strata have historically found themselves in the struggle between the proletariat and bourgeoisie. The details of this have been covered again and again, in books like J. Sakai’s Settlers, H. W. Edwards’ Labor Aristocracy, the work of the Maoist Internationalist Movement and others, including our work on anti-imperialism.com, so we won’t waste time bogging readers down with the arguments again when they can be found throughout the Third Worldist canon. Suffice it to say that we see that the labor aristocracy is a large majority of the working class in imperialist nations today.
There are still many elements in the communist movement who, noting the small size of the haute-bourgeoisie in imperialist countries, want to frame class struggle in the core as a struggle between a small minority and a large “mass.” The problem is that in truth, with a large petty-bourgeoisie which fights against the interests of the proletariat, and a large labor aristocracy which does the same, the majority of the population in imperialist centers cannot generally be considered “the masses.” The masses, from whom a correct, revolutionary line can be derived, are undoubtedly a small portion of the population within the First World.
We have of course been speaking thus far in general terms. It would be false to say that under no circumstances can members of the petty-bourgeoisie or labor aristocracy become part of the masses. The interplay of various contradictions within the imperialist centers can lead members of the labor aristocracy and petty-bourgeoisie to betray their immediate interests and fight alongside the proletariat. In fact, a significant part of the strategy we have advocated precisely involves finding these points of contradiction on which we can peel off sections of the embourgeoisfied population in support of the proletariat. Yet, in the final instance one’s position in the economic structure determines one’s consciousness. Thus we cannot expect the labor aristocracy or petty-bourgeoisie to champion the cause of the proletariat in large numbers. The reality remains: the masses are a small group in imperialist countries.
Failure to come to terms with this fact is detrimental. Without a clear picture of who our enemies and friends are, practice in imperialist countries can only lead the communist movement astray, and united fronts built around poor class analysis will be unprincipled and ineffective. The consequences of this can be seen throughout the history of the communist movement in the First World. At best, communists in imperialist countries have succeeded in mediating and sustaining the current system overall, and it is only in fleeting instances (when communists have broken with opportunism and from a dogmatic, unrealistic picture of the composition of imperialist countries) that communists within the First World have posed a serious threat.
For our part, we see the masses in the nations within First World as being primarily comprised of the following groups: “the basic proletariat [which we see as being quite small at best—M.E.], the part of the labor aristocracy which renounces its community of interest with imperialism, the part of the petty-bourgeoisie which relinquishes its aspirations to join the ranks of the haute-bourgeoisie, and part of the lumpenproletariat”. We must stress again that for the labor aristocracy and petty-bourgeoisie, they must thoroughly renounce their “community of interests with imperialism” and be prepared to make significant sacrifices. Otherwise, these groups effectively fight on the side of the bourgeoisie and are not part of the masses. More generally, the revolutionary movement in the First World must struggle to align itself with the interests of the proletariat, primarily concentrated in the Third World, as failing to address the material gulf between workers in the imperialist core and the oppressed nations amounts to tacit acceptance of the privileged position of some workers at the expense of others.
On national liberation
One of the primary ways through which imperialism can be weakened and eventually defeated is through national liberation. This involves the masses of oppressed nations rising up, seizing power, and freeing their nations from the clutches of imperialism. Through national liberation, imperialism loses its ability to suck upon the labor of the liberated nations. Our position is thus one of support for national liberation struggles around the world (though maintaining that the only way to achieve this liberation in the long run is through the struggle for socialism and communism). This position is less controversial when it comes to oppressed nations in the Third World. However, our stance on national liberation of oppressed nations within settler states—the united states, kanada, and australia being the clearest examples of settler states—is somewhat different than that of many communists in those settler states and thus tends to be much more controversial. This is not because of some inconsistency or eclecticism on our part; the controversy surrounding our line on national liberation within settler states seem largely to stem from the fact that we treat nations within settler formations in the same way we treat any nation in the world.
In the first place, what is a nation? It is a historically cohesive group with four things in common: 1) a common territory, 2) a common economic life, 3) a common language, 4) a common culture. Nations are also blocs of classes, i.e. each nation has its own internal class structure. Among other things, this means that there are states in the world which contain multiple nations. Settler states, characterized by having risen after the settling of a territory by a non-indigenous population, tend to contain multiple nations. So to speak, north amerika is a “prison house of nations,” as is australia.
Among Marxist-Leninists and Maoists in the First World, there is a good deal of acknowledgement of this fact, and calls are made for the self-determination of the oppressed, captive nations within the u.s., kanada, australia, and in parts of europe. However these same communists will often turn around and treat the class structure of these multinational states as if it is a single class structure! Talk is made of mobilizing the “American” proletariat, or the “Canadian” proletariat, or the “Australian” proletariat, disregarding that all of these formations contain multiple nations, each nation containing its own bloc of classes. In the Leninist tradition, we deride “left” communists for failing to recognize the necessity of the liberation of nations (i.e. of autonomous, national struggles) as a prerequisite for a genuine unity between peoples. However we often throw all principles to the wind and make precisely the same error as the “left” communists do when talking about settler states. That is, while we may pay lip service to the existence of captive, oppressed nations within settler formations, many of us turn around and talk as if these multinational states are already unified with a unified class structure. This is complete nonsense.
Third Worldists hold that multinational states exist, and among these are today’s settler states. We see each of the nations within these states as its own historically constituted bloc of classes. Thus, we realize it is nonsense to talk about a homogenous proletariat in places like the so-called “United States”, “Canada”, and “Australia”. Neither can we coherently conceive of a “socialist America”, for example, as the constructs of “America” and other settler states are predicated precisely upon the subjugation and oppression of multiple nations, and the complete dismantling of these settler states is required for any genuine socialism to take hold in the territories enclosed. In reality, for there to be any meaningful unity between the peoples who live in today’s settler formations, the liberation of oppressed nations—the success of autonomous, national struggles in the oppressed nations contained within the borders of the settler states—is a prerequisite.
To be clear: we do not stand opposed to forging international alliances, but treating the settler states as if they have a single class structure is a sure way to make any allegiance one works toward as unprincipled as possible. That is, if one approaches the u.s. or kanadian or australian “proletariat” as a unified class, then the tendency will be for national struggles to be sacrificed at the altar to appeals to the interests of the “whole proletariat.” We Leninists would never claim that britain and Ireland have a single, unified class structure. Why would we do so for settler states?
The other primary difference between Third Worldists and the majority of communists in the First World regarding national liberation is related to the first, but is primarily strategic. It is often argued or at least implied that due to the strength of u.s.-led imperialism, the proximity of oppressed nations within settler states to dominant imperialist powers, and the generally smaller populations of these oppressed nations compared to the populations of oppressor nations within settler formations, that national liberation struggles within settler states will have to unite with the struggles of the settler (“white”) labor movement to be successful. There may be truth in the claim that oppressed nations within settler states may need some help in their struggles to liberate themselves. However, unity with settler labor movements is an extremely dangerous and ineffective strategy and has proven so time and again.
The problem is that “white” workers in settler states have a direct, material interest in the continued subjugation of the oppressed nations within the political borders of the u.s., kanada, and australia. This has been manifest since the very beginning of the settler labor movement.
What was the essence of the ideology of white labor? Petit-bourgeois annexationism. Lenin pointed out in the great debates on the National Question that the heart of national oppression is annexation of the territory of the oppressed nation(s) by the oppressor nation. There is nothing abstract or mystical about this. To this new layer of European labor was denied the gross privileges of the settler bourgeoisie, who annexed whole nations. Even the particular privileges that so comforted the earlier Euro-Amerikan farmers and artisans—most particularly that of “annexing” individual plots of land every time their Empire advanced—was denied these European wage slaves. But, typically, their petit-bourgeois vision saw for themselves a special, better kind of wage-slavery. The ideology of white labor held that as loyal citizens of the Empire even wage-slaves had a right to special privileges (such as “white man’s wages”), beginning with the right to monopolize the labor market.
We must cut sharply through the liberal camouflage concealing this question. It is insufficient—and therefore misleading—to say that European workers wished to “discriminate against” or “exclude” or were “prejudiced against” colored workers. It was the labor of Afrikan and Indian workers that created the economy of the original Amerika; likewise, the economy of the Southwest was distilled from the toil of the Indian/Mexicano workers, and that of Northern California and the Pacific Northwest was built by Mexicano and Chinese labor. Immigrant European workers proposed to enter an economy they hadn’t built, and “annex”, so to speak, the jobs that the nationally oppressed had created.
Naturally, the revisionists always want to talk about it as a matter of white workers not sharing equally enough—as though when a robber enters your home and takes everything you’ve earned, the problem is that this thief should “share” your property better! Since the ideology of white labor was annexationist and predatory, it was of necessity also rabidly pro-Empire and, despite angry outbursts, fundamentally servile to the bourgeoisie. It was not a proletarian outlook, but the degraded outlook of a would-be labor aristocracy.
Communists in settler states have been calling for unity between settlers and the people of the oppressed nations for as long as communist movements have existed here. Yet, we’ve been waiting hundreds of years for this unity and it either doesn’t happen, or when it does, it results in the outright liquidation of national liberation struggles. Though there were many reasons behind the failure of the last wave of national liberation struggles in the First World, not least among them was an unprincipled unity with the “white” labor movement. Two examples in the u.s. were the African Blood Brotherhood and later the Black Panthers, both effectively liquidated after they abandoned what was framed as “separatism” and sought unity with “white” labor struggles. We stress that the reason for this is largely due to the fact that the immediate interests of white workers are antagonistic to the cause of national liberation.
If the nationally oppressed need to unify with the proletariat of other nations in order to liberate themselves, then we argue it must be primarily with the proletariat located in the Third World. National liberation struggles within the First World and Third World share many interests. The victory of socialist revolution in the Third World weakens imperialism and can help provide a systemic opening which struggles in the First World can take advantage of. The reverse is also true: national liberation movements in settler states can distract and weaken imperialist powers and make room for Third World struggles to breathe. Moreover, the most oppressed elements in the captive nations within settler states have much more in common, materially speaking, with the Third World proletariat than they do with the vast majority of white laborers. Thus, we see the naturally ally of the people of oppressed nations within the First World as being the people of the Third World—national liberation struggles should be incorporated into a broad united front against imperialism and into Global People’s War.
If “white” settlers are to participate in Global People’s War, it must ultimately be on the basis of betrayal of their own immediate interests, and indeed, on the basis of what can be considered “national suicide.” Settlers must actively desire and work toward the dismantling of their own privileges and their own nations (which are built upon the annexation of other nations), otherwise they cannot be accomplices in revolution.
On women’s liberation
Several years ago, the Maoist Internationalist Movement helped reveal the sorry state of feminist discourse within the western communist movement by illustrating its liberal underpinnings. In one particularly revealing instance, they criticized the Revolutionary Communist Party, usa, for its chauvinism under the guise of (liberal) “feminism”, by comparing their statements on gender to those of a prominent liberal feminist. The two sets of statements were in a number of respects indistinguishable. Most egregiously, both the RCP and their liberal allies used feminist-sounding language to cover for effectively falling on the side of u.s. imperialism at a time when the united states had Iran in its cross hairs. Some of the western left (though not all of it!) has learned somewhat from these past blunders. Calls for demonstrations against nations the u.s. and its lackeys are attacking in the name of “feminism” are less common today among nominal communists. Unfortunately, the First World communist movement has yet to break decisively from an ultimately liberal and/or postmodern view of women’s liberation. Thus, we feel another intervention is needed, both to avoid a relapse into past errors, and to move toward a genuinely Marxist and revolutionary appraisal of patriarchy and how to defeat it.
In the communist movement historically, the default position on the so-called “Women Question” has been a male chauvinist one. Great strides were certainly made in past socialist projects toward ameliorating the conditions of women and empowering them to some extent politically. Nevertheless, women’s liberation has fairly consistently been considered a “secondary” struggle within the communist movement and communists have generally stopped short of interrogating the very division of people into men and women in the first place. That is, the most radical demand has often been “equality between men and women”, with the tacit assumption being of course that these “eternal” categories of “man” and “woman”—categories emerging from an oppressive relationship—will continue to exist.
Both of these errors are very much still present in today’s communist movement. The reason we say they are symptomatic of male chauvinism is because typical feminist discourse among communists does not get to the root of patriarchy, it distracts from the extent to which the very position of “man” is predicated on the oppression and exploitation of women, and it obscures the fact that the very division of people into gender categories is rooted in an economic relationship that must be abolished. Thus, in failing to address the root of the problem, today’s communist movement gives space for the domination of women by men to continue to exist, both in their organizations and in their vision of a future society.
What do we mean when we say that the gender division is sourced in an economic relationship? Most liberal and/or postmodern analysis of gender deals with gender primarily as it manifests in the cultural, ideological, and legal level of society. This analysis has not been unimportant. As Marxists though, we know that these superstructural aspects of gender must be produced and reproduced if they are to remain dominant. That is to say, these relations do not fall from the sky. And what produces gender relations that appear in the superstructure? A division which exists in the economic base of society.
Thus, a Marxist conception of gender is that it is ultimately produced by society’s material production relations, in particular a division of labor that exists in the economic base of society (a division where a social group is systematically pushed into unwaged domestic labor). This division of labor has changed in its specific characteristics from previous modes of production to the capitalist mode of production, but it is undeniable that capitalism as it really exists has developed with a division between productive labor and unwaged domestic labor—the latter being carried out primarily by women and without pay—as part of its base.
The gender division of labor means that the costs of reproducing the work force—child rearing, cooking, cleaning, gathering basic sustenance, etc.—are largely the burden of unpaid women’s labor. This is a boon for the capitalist. It is also a relationship that men systematically benefit from. Men are afforded a higher degree of economic freedom and mobility and are able to exert power over women due to women’s subordinate position in the social division of labor. A simple example of this is the fact that (as UN Women revealed in 2007) globally, women perform two thirds of the world’s labor while receiving only 10% of the income and owning only a tiny portion of the property. The other side of this of course is that men receive considerably more while doing considerably less labor, a situation dependent on the subordination of women.
Of course, it is true that patriarchy cannot be reduced to only a division of labor. Patriarchy manifests in a plethora of ways which have been investigated by generations of feminists. However, the gender division existing in the economic base of society is what continually produces and reproduces patriarchy. Without realizing this we cannot explain why patriarchy persists in our present world, taking new forms, but showing no signs of being eroded. Subsequently, we cannot come to grips with how patriarchy can be defeated. Additionally, without a Marxist theory of gender, we cannot explain the division of people into “men” and “women” in the first place. It is wrong and backward to conceive of these categories as representing some essential characteristics of people. Rather, in the final instance, “man” and “woman” represent differing positions in a social hierarchy.
What we must understand is that women’s liberation is not merely a “secondary” struggle but is inexorably intertwined with the struggle for communism. Not only is gender oppression impossible to eliminate within the context of capitalism, but communism is impossible without the abolition of the productive relations which give rise to the division between men and women. In other words, since “man” and “woman” are categories stemming from an oppressive relationship, and men benefit from this division, then communists must seek the abolition of gender itself, i.e. in the last instance, the productive relations giving rise to patriarchy, if they genuinely want a society without oppression. We must not shy away from this.
Of course, we must also recognize how the gender contradiction interplays with other contradictions. Although proletarian men absolutely do exert dominance over women, proletarian men are also exploited and dominated by capital. Thus, proletarian men and women find a great deal of common ground, and proletarian men can be won over to fight as accomplices of proletarian women in revolution. On the other hand, bourgeois and petty-bourgeois women may perform little to no labor and may indeed exploit the labor of their working class “sisters”. Thus, proletarian women may find that they have little in common with women in higher class positions.
Having said that, it is without exception that we advocate that in order for men of any class to be genuine accomplices of women in revolution, they must actively desire and work toward the abolition of their very existence as men.
Western communists have absolutely no business feeling self righteous on the issue of gender (as RCP, usa did) when our own track record on feminism, both in theory and in practice, is abysmal. And we will fail to make any progress if we refuse to interrogate the roots of patriarchy thoroughly. We need a genuinely proletarian feminism that does not stop at demands echoed from liberals. We need to utterly dismantle male chauvinism within our organizations and to build a movement where women’s struggles are primary struggles, as they are inseparable from the struggle against capitalism itself.
On global new democracy
Finally, a fundamental way in which we Third Worldists differ from most communists in the west is how we conceive of post-revolutionary society. Our goal is of course socialism and communism. But how do we get there?
Imperialism has led to a vast differential in wealth in the world, where wealth is primarily concentrated, and to an enormous degree, in the imperialist countries. The imperialist nations rose to dominance by ransacking the rest of the world. For imperialism and the economic power imperialist countries wield to be dismantled, we argue that the oppressed nations need to “expropriate the expropriators.”
Although the most important task is to transform productive relations (else systematic inequalities will simply rise again), leaving the distribution of wealth and productive forces as is leaves some countries with considerable assets which they accumulated at the expense of the proletariat of the oppressed nations. If we do not want a future society to look like “from each according to one’s ability, to each according to one’s skin color”, then the defeat of imperialism will necessarily involve massive reparations and redistribution of productive forces to the oppressed nations. These reparations will have to be overseen carefully by a joint dictatorship of the people of oppressed nations, led by the proletariat. We call this process “global new democracy.”
While the differences between our vision of post-revolutionary society and those of others is less immediately pertinent than the issues discussed above, it is important to keep in mind. Having the end in mind guides practice and the development of short- and mid-term goals. The concept of global new democracy also helps reinforce our conception of the role First Worlders will play in Global People’s War, i.e. that we must be prepared to make significant sacrifices.
We have hopefully demarcated clearly the points on which Maoists (Third Worldists) differ from much of the communist movement. The purpose of this is not to make criticism for its own sake, but to provide a basis on which strategy can be built. A primary task for First Worlders in Global People’s War is to build the broadest possible united front against imperialism. Keeping the points discussed above firmly in our minds, in a forthcoming piece we will discuss how we conceive of a principled united front in the First World.
– Freya B.
1. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism and the Split in Socialism”. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/oct/x01.htm
2. V.I. Lenin, “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism”, Preface to the French and German Editions. http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1916/imp-hsc/pref02.htm
3. V.I. Lenin, “Speech on the Terms of Admission Into the Communist International”. https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jul/x03.htm
4. Klaas V., “A critique of Albert Meltzer: Exposé of the vanguard party”. https://anti-imperialism.com/2014/03/17/albert-meltzer-critique-expose-of-the-vanguard
5. J. Sakai, “Settlers: The Mythology of the White Proletariat”, 2nd edition, 32.
6. For a discussion on this topic see Sanyika Shakur’s “Get Up For The Down Stroke”. http://kersplebedeb.com/posts/get-up-for-the-down-stroke-sanyika-shakur-responds-to-black-liberation-in-the-21st-century-a-revolutionary-reassessment-of-black-nationalism/