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From Democrat to Socialist Revolutionary: The Legacy Fidel leaves

 

From the late 1980s, the bureaucracy dominated states posing as socialist entered their terminal crisis. Tien an Men Square saw workers and students being murdered in China. Angry popular revolts brought down the regimes in East Europe. The USSR collapsed. And it was therefore being said everyday, that Castro’s days are numbered. The days turned into weeks, months and then years. But while China became a strong capitalist power with as utter a disregard for the environment and for workers’ rights as any US Rightwing politician could desire, while the collapse of the USSR was followed by a dramatic lowering of the quality of life in the ex-USSR, Cuba survived. And continued on its path. And if it was not the credit of one man alone, certainly leadership counted. That leadership was provided by Fidel Castro Ruz. The greatest evidence came from his enemies – with the CIA reportedly attempting 638 assassination attempts on him.

Born on August 13, 1926, Fidel Castro was a radical student, then a young lawyer. In 1952, Fulgencio Batista, dictator of Cuba from 1933 to 1940, President from 1940 to 44 under a constitution of his making, again took power through a military coup. A comprador of the American mafia, which controlled the drug, gambling and sex-trade of Cuba, and of US multinationals who were awarded lucrative deals, Batista destroyed liberties, including the right to strike. As an activist lawyer Castro first went to courts with a petition against Batista. After his case was thrown out, he concluded that Batista could not be removed by using the legal structures, and planned an armed uprising, recruiting mainly among disgruntled workers of Havana. On 26 July 1953, Fidel and his brother Raul attacked the Moncada Barracks in Santiago, but were defeated. Sixty-three were either killed in battle or executed subsequently. Put on trial, Fidel delivered the first of his long speeches, ending: Condemn me. I do not mind. History will absolve me.

Sentenced to jail for fifteen years, he and Raul were released in 1955 under international pressure demanding release of political prisoners. They left Cuba to join other revolutionaries in Mexico, where they also met the Argentine Ernesto “Che” Guevara. In 1956, they returned to Cuba in a yacht named Granma. Only 12 of them survived long enough to launch a guerrilla war in the remote Sierra Maestra mountains. Despite this, the group endured and attracted fresh recruits. By the summer of 1958, they had 200 members. Yet, in January 1959, they entered Havana.  It was the guerilla war, supported by peasants, radical intelligentsia, that initially shook Batista. But in the final stages, they were also joined by the workers, in a general strike that paralyzed Havana.

The US regarded Central America and the Caribbean as its ‘backyard’. Nominally independent states were run by US client regimes formed of assorted generals, landowners, industrialists, and gangsters. Assuming that this was no more than a middle class led “revolution” that simply removed one leadership for another, the US leaders were willing to cut a deal with Castro.

What happened was unexpected. Castro was, to use a term the Bolsheviks had used for themselves in 1907-1914, a consistent democrat. As such, trying to look after the interests of peasants and workers, he found that without making serious inroads into the rule of capital, nothing constructive could be done. A genuine but independent “bourgeois democratic revolution” was impossible.

Castro’s First Declaration of Havana made clear that the Cuban revolution was not one more typical Latin American military revolution. It declared total independence from the US. While Cuba with its sugar industry was a small fish economically, it had strategic importance to the US rulers as a gatekeeper to the Caribbean and to the southern continent as a whole. Washington reacted angrily and hastily, trying to cordon off the new regime from the rest of the continent. This led to a radical response by the Cuban leadership. It decided to nationalize US-owned industries without compensation. Three months later, on 13 October 1961, the United States severed diplomatic relations; subsequently, it armed Cuban exiles in Florida and launched an invasion of the island near the Bay of Pigs. US planes, painted to look like Cuban aircraft, flew into bomb airports, aiming to paralyse the Cuban airport. The attack was repulsed. When huge masses turned out to pay homage to the dead, Castro delivered a speech, in which he declared the goal of the revolution to be socialist.

Facing open US threats, the Cubans were compelled to seek soviet support. This resulted in missiles being placed in Cuba. Between mid to late October 1962, this led to a major crisis. What is most significant is, the Soviet Union concluded a deal with the USA, without even informing Castro, whereby Soviet missiles in Cuba were to be traded off against US missiles in Turkey. Castro was outraged, and warned that the Cubans would not tolerate US intrusion in Cuban airspace. The decision to place the missiles was Khruschev’s, a decision at least partly spurred by the Sino-Soviet split and his desire to appear anti-imperialist.

When Castro is accused (whether by pro-US commentators, or by those who would be perfect revolutionaries), of being “Moscow dependent” they need to remember that a revolution that was radicalising, 90 miles from the US, at the height of the Cold War, had limited options if it wanted to survive. When the Bay of Pigs invasion was defeated, Kennedy imposed a total economic blockade on Cuba. On 4 February 1962, the Second Declaration of Havana denounced the US presence in South America and called for the liberation of the entire continent. Fidel Castro realised that the survival of the Cuban revolution and its ability at achieving lasting social transformation called for an internationalisation of the revolution. Even specifically regarding the Missiles Crisis, he had objections and forty  years on in an interview, he said that Khruschev aggravated the stand-off by insisting to Kennedy that there were no nuclear weapons on Cuba and that all Soviet activity was defensive.

His actions thereafter can be seen under a few heads. A radical social transformation was planned in Cuba. Illiteracy, which stood at 23% in 1958, was abolished in one year, by mobilising volunteers. Free education at all levels was introduced, and in the early 21st Century, Cuba had more teachers per capita than any other country.

Major strides were taken in health care. In the early 21st century again (that is, around the time Castro stepped down due to ill health), the WHO estimated that Cuba had a life expectancy of 76 years for men and 80 for women. In 2008, infant mortality in Cuba was 5.9 per thousand against 7 per thousand in the US.

Advances were not made uniformly, nor at the same time, in all sectors. But Cuba fought seriously against racism and sexism. From March 1959, anti-racism was a public issue, and Castro spoke often on the subject. The fight for women’s equality was also a difficult one. But in terms of certain vital areas, changes were ensured. By 2002, women were a majority of university graduates, and a good many were studying non traditional areas like science and economics. 51% of scientists and 72% of the doctors are women.

From 1966, the Cuban leadership was becoming aware that homophobia was a major issue. By 1995, the May Day march was led by Cuba’s drag queens, a remarkable development not mirrored everywhere in the left. But this was not a very easy process. In the 1960s and 1970s, the Cuban government had clearly negative attitude to Gays and Lesbians. It would be in 1979 that same sex relations were legalised. But non-discrimination laws are still considered inadequate, and to that extent, sometimes threatening to the LGBT community.

Colonialism and dependent capitalism had left Cuba an environmental nightmare. This was attacked in many ways. The collapse of the USSR and Cuba’s determination not to switch to being a US client led them to turn seriously to organic farming. Even in urban areas, like Havana, this was practised, with Havana now producing much of its food from the urban gardens. Cuba is also leading in struggles against fossil fuel. Once again, the relationship between class issues and policy can be seen. Centralised power structures, dependence on fuels and equipment requiring Western support, would come at a price. Richard Levins writes of his experience, where in a Communist Party debate, it was argued that that far from ecology being "idealist," it was the height of idealism to suppose that the party or the government could pass resolutions and have nature obey.

The political system was more complicated. Cuba never went the Stalinist way. “There is no cult of personality around any living revolutionary,” Castro said on May Day 2003. “The leaders of this country are human beings, not gods.” But, facing a US threat and with a lot of Soviet advisers, Castro also did not go for a socialist multiparty system.  The fact that his comrades fused with the old Stalinist party also meant that local Stalinist influence also came in. But the “people’s power” structures that Castro and his comrades put in place gave a degree of rights to Cuban workers and peasants which compare favourably with not only the majority of so-called socialist experiences, but also most bourgeois democracies, since there the system is loaded against any attempt by toilers to organise or put in their own people at any level. Nonetheless, the fact also remains that Cuba is a one-party state, even if the party permits different viewpoints to exist within it (one can mention the late Celia Hart Santamaria, a Trotskyist member of the party). But when Cuba is accused of its prisons and its political prisoners, we also need to examine the rights of political dissenters in the US client states of South and Central America. When Castro is accused of rights violations by Indian media, we need to look at how they have consistently NOT reported the attacks on the Native Americans at Sanding Rock, at the Israeli violence on Palestinians in recent years. Without idolising or idealising Castro, we also need to say, that while we, revolutionaries, have our criticisms, we do not take our cures from those who defend capitalist violence in Kashmir, in Bastar, in Odisha and elsewhere. But as revolutionaries, we must also say that the lack of institutionalised workers’ democracy, through factory committees, socialist multiparty politics, the organization of forums for debates over various issues, has weakened and not strengthened the revolution. At the same time, it is the US imperialist threat that has led to such a response from the Cuban leaders.

In their international relations, Castro and his comrades had an internationalist perspective very unlike the others. The Tricontinental Congress in the early period of the revolution was an attempt to bypass the bureaucratic, electoralist, bourgeois ally-seeking communist parties and build alternative revolutionary forces. Even later, Casto and his comrades distinguished themselves. During the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, he was critical of the economic policies of the Czechoslovak government, which was one thing, but he described the Czech supporters of Dubcek as counter-revolutionaries, which they were not. But he also argued that what had happened was an invasion, and asked how it could be, that a country had a supposed communist revolution for twenty years but then had to be rescued by fraternal invasion? Interestingly, this was why, despite Castro’s clearly declared support for the invasion, which was politically completely wrong, the Soviet regime hardly circulated his full statement widely. 

Again, he had a nuanced political line over the Chilean regime of Salvadore Allende. He identified himself with the anti-imperialist measures of the Unidad Popular government, unlike those who simply condemned out of text books from the outside. But he consistently argued that it was simply a small step. He criticised the Chilean left for “the weakness of ideological battle, the weakness of mass struggle, the weaknesses displayed in the face of the enemy”. And a month before the US sponsored coup of Pinochet, he urged Allende to mobilize the working class.

If the Cuban revolution finally collapses, if US capitalism is able to return and bring Cuba under its control, it will not be because Castro was not a revolutionary. The principal reason will be the failure of revolutions and radical forces in the region. As Castro’s old comrade had urged, to save one revolution it was necessary to create two, three, many Vietnams.

 

When Castro died at the age of 90, the signboard of a Communist Party meant little in reality in Moscow, Beijing or Hanoi. That is meant something far more in Havana or Santiago, was certainly due in good measure to his leadership. And yet, as Machiavelli warned in his Discourses, it was not enough to have leaders with virtus. It was necessary to have good ordini, which in today’s terms means institutions of Socialist democracy. It is this failure that may haunt a post-Fidel Cuba.


Radical Socialist, 27 November 2016

A Report of Protest Demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, condemning the massacre in Malkangiri District, Odisha.

PRESS RELEASE
                                                                                       2nd November 2016
A Report of
Protest Demonstration at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi, condemning the massacre in Malkangiri District, Odisha.
 
Condemning this brutal massacre conducted by the paramilitary forces, hundreds of intellectuals, cultural activists, democratic rights activists and individuals came together to register their protest on 2nd November at 11 am at Jantar Mantar. The protest meeting was conducted by Sourabh, a democratic rights activist in Delhi. D. Raja, Rajya Sabha MP from CPI, strongly opposed this assault on the people fighting for their right to land and life and reminded us that this is an attack not just against one political party but against any voice that dares to stand up against the fascist regime at the centre. He noted that any individual or organization that stands at the forefront of people’s resistance and raises their voice is brutally attacked by state forces. In these times, he found that we need to build a larger unity against fascism as every space for democratic dissent is under attack. Dr. GN Saibaba, Professor in Ram Lal Anand College in Delhi University and democratic rights activist revisited the facts made available through the media. The evidence of such a brutal massacre marks a preplanned operation meant to destroy and crush adivasi assertions across the country. He found that since our so called political independence, this is the largest such ‘encounter’ conducted by the state. In such a time, it becomes crucial to remember that this area and the people resisting the state were fighting against the acquisition of land for Bauxite mining worth lakhs of crores to the Central and state government.  Aparna, CPIML (New Democracy), reiterated the brutality of the attack where bodies appeared to have been mutilated and posed as encounters. These encounters, she found, have been staged and these people were brutally killed in cold blood. She demanded that those who are in police custody be produced in a court of law and treated as political prisoners. Rakesh Ranjan, professor in SRCC in Delhi University, reminded us of the history of attacks against the adivasi, dalit and poor peasants in this country. Earlier the policy of Operation Green Hunt was executed across Central India and the citizens of this country were attacked by its own paramilitary. He found that now the brutality of the paramilitary forces is visible on the bodies of the dead and reflects the policy of the state renamed ‘Mission 2016’. 
 
Mrigank from CPIML (New Democracy) stressed the need to unite at such a time and fight this fascist assault of the state on the people of this country. Girija from CPIML (Liberation) hailed the long history of people’s struggles, from Naxalbari to the fight against brahmanical-fascism today and the need to fight unitedly. Pankaj Tyagi, advocate from Haryana, asserted that this is not just a fight for individuals. He found that those who were killed fought for their right to jal-jangal-jameen and this is an attack on an ideology and those upholding their rights. He found that those sitting in the boardrooms of democracy were the true terrorists as they orchestrate and execute such brutalities in the name of ‘national interest’. The killing of 8 members of SIMI in Bhopal, the attack on the people of Kashmir, the repeated violence on dalits across the country and now this massacre in Malkangiri, all these are related and need to be fought together. Saroj Giri, professor of Political Science in Delhi University, reminded us that the form of violence changes over time and the only way to fight it is by sharpening our struggle. Members of student organizations like Democratic Students Union, All India Students Association, Krantikari Naujawan Sabha, Bastar Solidarity Network, All India Students Federation and several such democratic voices spoke in solidarity condemning this fake encounter and raised their voice in unison to fight fascism in order to build a truly democratic society. 
 
On the 24th of October 2016, in the district of Malkangiri in Odisha, adivasis, cadres and leaders of CPI (Maoist) were massacred by security agencies in an unprecedented covert operation. So far in this brutal massacre, about 39 people were killed according to the leaders of adivasi organisations in the region. The brutality and the secrecy of this joint operation of the police forces of Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Central government’s paramilitary forces reveal that it was a well planned cold blooded massacre. The police announced that 15 people were killed. But over the next few days it became clear that many more had been brutally killed by the paramilitary forces in a combing operation. The bodies of those killed revealed brutal marks of torture, heads were cut off, women’s breasts were chopped off and most of the bodies were mutilated to the point where they were unidentifiable. The names announced by the police did not match the bodies that could be recognized and on the 30th of October, the police buried the remaining bodies by saying that no one came to claim the bodies. Among the dead, women outnumbered the men. Moreover, the police took 10 adivasis and RK, CPI (Maoist) Central Committee leader, into police custody and have not produced them in court.
 
All the participants in the protest demonstration united agreed to raising the following demands: 
 
 
1.    Order Judicial Enquiry into Malkangiri Massacre by a Supreme Court judge to establish the facts
2.    Akkiraju Haragopal (Ramakrishna, RK) and 10 others under the custody of Andhra Pradesh government should be immediately produced in a court of law
3.    Stop Devastating Adivasi Villages in the name of Combing Operations and stop harassment of adivasis
4.    All those responsible for this massacre, including police and paramilitary personnel, should be charged with murder.
 
ABSF, AIPWA, AISA, AISF, BASO, Bastar Solidarity Network – Delhi Chapter, BSCEM, CAFAU, CFI, CPI, CPI (ML) New Democracy, CPI (ML) Liberation, CRPP, DSU, IMK, KNS, Matidari, NCHRO, NFIW, Nowroz, PUCL, PUDR, WSS, PFI and others.

Standing Against Barbarism

 

Tuesday 1 November 2016, by Gilbert Achcar

Both the Syrian regime and the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen aim to bury the aspirations of the Arab Spring.

The Arab political opinion falls into two main categories: those who condemn the murderous and destructive bombing of Syrian cities and rural areas by the Syrian regime and its Russian master and keep silent about the murderous and destructive bombing of Yemeni cities and rural areas by the Saudi-led coalition, when they don’t support the latter; and those who condemn the murderous and destructive bombing of Yemeni cities and rural areas by the Saudi-led coalition and keep silent about the murderous and destructive bombing of Syrian cities and rural areas by the Syrian regime and its Russian master, when they don’t support the latter.

We hardly hear the voice of the third category, those who condemn both bombings and regard them as equally criminal (even though there is no denying that the bombing by the Syrian regime and its Russian master has caused much more killing and much greater destruction than the other). And yet this third category exists and it is certainly larger and more widespread than what its silence would lead one to believe.

It is the category of those who put the interests and safety of populations above all political considerations and reject the deplorable logic according to which “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” regardless of the nature of this “friend,” the values that he represents and the goals that he pursues. The truth is, indeed, that the counterrevolutionary forces that mobilized against the great Arab uprising of 2011, known as the Arab Spring, are of various sorts and forms.

Both the Syrian regime and the Saudi one are key pillars of the old rotten Arab regime against which the uprising stood up, with the dream of being able to sweep it away and replace it with an order that would provide “bread, freedom, social justice, and national dignity” — the slogan that was chanted in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and numerous other squares providing the best summary of the aspirations of the Arab Spring. The purpose of both bombings — that perpetrated by the Syrian regime and its Russian master and that perpetrated by the Saudi regime and its allies — is one in essence: they both aim at burying the revolutionary process ignited in Tunisia on December 17, six years ago.

The role of the Syrian regime and its Iranian (with auxiliaries) and Russian allies in confronting the Syrian revolution and repressing it with the ugliest and vilest means at the cost of untold massacre and destruction, is as clear as could be — except in the eyes of those who don’t want to see and persist in denying the reality or strive to justify it in presenting the uprising as a foreign conspiracy, thus repeating the worn-out argument of all reactionary regimes confronted with uprisings and revolutions.

As for the role of the Saudi regime in heading the Arab reaction, it is attested by the kingdom’s entire history, especially since the winds of liberation from colonialism and imperialism started blowing over the Arab region. Since 2011, this role took different forms from direct repressive intervention as occurred in Bahrain to support to the old regime by various means as occurred in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as provision of assistance and funding to Salafist groups in Syria in order to drown the uprising in a religious sectarian ideology that suits the kingdom and thus to ward off the democratic threat that the Syrian revolution represented for Arab despotism in all its variants, and not for the Syrian Baathist regime alone.

In Yemen, the neighboring country where events are the object of its greatest concern, the Saudi kingdom intervened to foster a compromise between the very reactionary Ali Abdallah Saleh and an opposition dominated by reactionary forces. This shoddy agreement was doomed to be short-lived: it collapsed and with it collapsed the Yemeni state, leading the country in its turn into the inferno of war.

The Yemeni war is not one between a revolutionary camp and a counterrevolutionary one, but one between two camps antithetic to the fundamental aspirations for which Yemen’s youth rose up in 2011. The Saudi-led intervention is supporting one side in a war between two reactionary camps and for considerations that are exclusively related to the kingdom’s security. Its main tool fits well its reactionary nature: the aerial bombing of populated areas with indifference for the murder of civilians, identical in that respect to the Russian bombing in Syria, not to mention the Syrian regime’s deliberate murder of civilians.

That is why it is indispensable that all those who are loyal to the hopes created by the Arab uprising and keen on reviving the revolutionary process that it unleashed and that was faced with severe reactionary relapse two years after it started, it is indispensable that all of them stick to a consistent attitude in condemning the reactionary onslaught that is falling from the sky, whichever its source is.

This is one aspect of what it takes to build in the Arab region a progressive pole independent of all the poles and axes of the old Arab regime and its reactionary contenders — the indispensable condition if the Arab revolution is to arise again and resume the march that it began six years ago, short of which there is no hope of overcoming the catastrophic situation into which the region has degenerated.

20 October 2016

Jacobin

Colombia: The Plebiscite, Peace and Defeat

 

  
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

04 October 2016

Without a doubt, the victory of the No side in the plebiscite on the 2nd of October came as a surprise to many, including the No campaign.  It represents a multiple defeat, on the one hand Santos was defeated at the ballot box, the Final Accord was defeated as were the FARC.  The defeat is not the same in each case.

Santos lost in his attempt to link the fate of the plebiscite to the future of his presidential candidate Humberto de La Calle.  The Accord was defeated without even forming part of the real debate and of course the FARC were defeated, part of the No vote was a clear rejection of the organisation.  There was also another defeat, the desire of Colombians to live in peace.  Although it is true to say that the last one could be predicted in any case as the Accord proposes bringing an end to the shooting match with the FARC and not so much about achieving Peace.

How did we get to this point?

The No vote is the result of a series of actions, agreements and connivances between the government, the FARC, the legal Left and the NGOs.

The first of these was the adoption of the Irish model of a process behind closed doors, whose content and discussions were secret and the people had neither a voice nor a vote, they had no right to know or opine.  The so-called experts thought that this was good, Vincenç Fisas from the School of Peace Culture in Barcelona said “It would be terrible that they had to emit a daily communiqué, like in El Caguán or Cuba with the ELN between 2005 and 2007.  The media have to be asked to be patient.”  He exaggerates in the aforementioned cases, they did not issue daily communiqués and in this process neither have they remained silent, but the basic idea was: lets do this behind people’s backs.  He demanded patience from the people not the press.

The people did not participate, despite some forums (where they attended and listened more than anything) and sending thousands of proposals to Havana.  Nobody knows what happened to the proposals that were sent.  The organisations that went to Cuba, expressed their opinion but nobody knows what happened to their opinions, the debate was between two parts, the state and the FARC.  After four years of telling people that they have no right to participate but just to appear, although it was unexpected, what happened in the plebiscite is not unusual.

In the debate, the campaign by ex paramilitaries, paramilitaries, drug traffickers, landlords, large companies represented by Centro Democrático de Colombia (Democratic Centre of Colombia) lied over and again.  But the truth be told, the Yes side also lied.  The left talked of agrarian reform when the Accord rules it out and the document of the FARC put to their 10th Conference acknowledges this.(2)  There will be impunity for the military and the businessmen who are equated to the rebels of the FARC (which in itself is an insult, a rebel is an altruistic dissident, the military are state criminals and the businessmen are criminals out for their own gains).  These and many more issues did not form part of the debate due to a simple reason.

The Colombian left made an alliance with the government of Juan Manual Santos in the name of peace, not just when they asked people to vote for him in the second round of elections in 2014, but also in the framework of discussions on peace.  It accepted that the people would not have a voice or a vote and when the draft agreements began to be published they said nothing about the disgraceful content.  They remained silent in the name of peace.  The legal Left of the Polo and the NGOs, with some exceptions, is not a world populated by idiots, but rather there are many people who are intelligent, capable, analytical and some even have a conscience.  However, they said nothing about the voids in the agreements.  They never opened up that debate.  The Left accepted that it was better to not discuss it and trusted that war weariness would win the plebiscite.

Who Voted No?

The minute the result came out, they began to claim that the cities voted No and the countryside Yes, the victims Yes and the non-victims No.  However, the situation is more complex than that and it cannot be reduced to crude arguments such as those.  It is true that Antioquia is the department that had the greatest impact in favour of the No.  But when you look at rural areas such as Segovia, the setting of the 1988 massacre when the Liberal Party (of which Uribe was a militant back then) gave the order to the paramilitaries and the military to massacre 43 people for having voted for the UP and against the liberals, we see a different reality.  In 1996, Captain Cañas led a paramilitary group that massacred 13 people in two neighbourhoods of the town.  In 1997 the paramilitaries and the military murdered 250 people, many of them human rights defenders.  In 1998, the ELN attacked the oil pipeline and the unintentional ensuing fire burnt 84 people to death in Machuca, Segovia.  Later in 2001 the paramilitaries killed seven people in the same place, just to mention a few incidents.  There can be no doubt, the municipality has its victims, it has suffered the war like no other, but it clearly voted No.  However, only 19% of the people voted.

In Bojayá where more than 100 people were killed in an attack by the FARC on paramilitaries entrenched in the town, 96% voted Yes.  It would seem resounding and it was used as proof of that rural/urban, victim/non-victim division.  But barely 30.37% of those registered to vote turned out in that municipality.  Segovia and Bojayá are proof of something that the media, the Left, the state and the NGOs do not want to acknowledge: the reasons for the No vote are more complex and the abstentions defeated them all, none of them could motivate the people to vote.  Almost 63% of the population did not turn out to vote and in the municipalities most affected by the violence the abstention rate rose to figures oscillating between 70% and 80%.(3)

This is the result of a process behind people’s backs.  That Uribe took advantage of the ignorance of the people, introduced fear, appealing to a reactionary Catholicism managing to even bring in the rights of the LGBT community in the debate, well yes, he did.  But he did so in the face of a Left which in alliance with the state decided it was better to ask the ignorant to vote than educate, debate and discuss.  The vacuum of ignorance is a creation of the very process; it is a requirement of the process.  Neither did those that voted Yes do so thinking of the content.  Some thought that there would be an agrarian reform, justice, truth etc.  But really, they voted because they were tired of the war.  And now that Uribe has come in to negotiate “changes”, they will vote yes again, regardless of the content of the changes.

Constituent Assembly

From early on in the process the FARC asked for a Constituent Assembly but accepted the state’s negative response.  The Left and the NGOs accepted it also, the latter like vultures go where the money is and there is no money in fighting for a Constituent Assembly.  However, now is the time to revive the idea.  A Constituent Assembly cannot be rushed, but it is the only chance to live in peace and at the same time build a scenario to struggle against impunity, the mining companies and the laws of plunder, amongst other things.  But in order to do that the Polo has to break its alliance with the state, the Right has said it is not willing to accept peace at any cost, so the left should also say “peace yes, but not at any cost”, i.e. the complete opposite of the four years they have spent on their knees with the self-deceit that a peace process would solve everything.  When you ask for little it is certain that you will be given less. 
 

Notes:

(1) El Tiempo (29/09/2012) Entrevista con Vincenç Fisas www.eltiempo.com

(2) See www.las2orillas.co Que discutieron las FARC en sesión cerrada durante los 7 días de la X Conferencia

(3) Statistics on voting can be obtained from www.registraduria.gov.co 

Condemn the Mass Killing of Maoists: Statement by Radical Socialist

Radical Socialist condemns the mass killing of at least 24 Maoists or alleged Maoists, in what the police are calling an encounter, in the Odisha side of the Andhra – Odisha border area. From the reports issued by the police, it is evident that they had surrounded a meeting of the Maoists, at best. We say at best, because it is well known, and has been revealed latest in the case of the killing of Madkam Hidme, that adivasis are killed at random to make up tales of police-military heroism, dressed in so called Maoist uniforms, etc. So without independent evidence one cannot take the words of the police as the truth. As the identification of bodies takes place, it has been alleged by activists, such as Varvara Rao, that some at least among those killed were villagers who had kept in touch with the Maoists rather than being Maoist cadres themselves.

 

In the first place, even if everyone had been a Maoist, there is a need to know exactly what the Andhra police was doing, with arms, in Odisha. If the Maoists were holding a meeting, and if there was a need to apprehend them, why not only the Odisha police. The use of Greyhounds, trained to attack and kill, suggests that the operation was planned as a killing operation from the outset. Varvara Rao’s description of it as a fake encounter is therefore apt.

 

We stand by what we have said in the past. If the Indian state claims to be a democratic state, it has to use normal laws, and compel its police forces to follow regulations and procedures. The use of special forces, whether the Greyhounds in Andhra and Telangana, or other types including in Jammu and Kashmir and North East India, flouts the democratic rights of the people of India. India’s people need protection far more from the state than from real or spurious terrorists.

 

  •        Abolish all so-called anti-terrorist laws that are deliberately worded in a vague and broad manner so that they can be and are used to terrorise ordinary people..
  •    Abolish “special” police forces trained to kill and count score for bonus. We need law, not bounty hunters.

 

 

 27 October, 2016 

India On Strike

This article was originally written for Jacobin magazine's online version. A somewhat bigger piece, it was edited by Jacobin. We have retained most of the editing, but have made changes in cases where we felt that the editing did not reflect precisely what the authors had intended to convey. Also, because it was written for a primarily non Indian readership, many figures have been converted to US dollars. We have retained those for the online version here, though the printed version in Bangla will not carry those.-- Administrator, Radical Socialist website.

 

In the midst of a right-wing onslaught, Indian workers carried out one of the largest strikes in world history.

by Kunal Chattopadhyay & Soma Marik

 

On September 2, 180 million Indian workers participated in a massive one-day strike that extended across the country and engaged employees in every economic sector. Likely the largest general strike in world history, it demonstrated the power of the Indian working class, which is increasingly underpaid, casualized, and unorganized.

To understand such a strike, we have to ask a number of questions, among them: how successful was it? What kind of material impact did it have on India’s ruling class? What was the relationship of India’s union bureaucracy to the day’s actions? What about the country’s fractured left? Or Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party?

More broadly, to what extent has globalization shaped Indian class struggle and politics for the past forty years? And what are the prospects for class struggle in India in the years to come?

On the Backs of Workers

Though Rajiv Gandhi initiated India’s drive to integrate with the world market in the 1980s, that integration was only publicly announced in 1991. In that sense, 2016 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of India’s globalization strategy. In this period, much has happened.

The move toward globalization — which meant, in effect, ensuring that more and more wealth flowed from the poor to the rich — could begin only after the working class suffered strategic defeats. Three major events stand out.

In 1974, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi used considerable force to end the All India Railwaymen’s Federation strike. The union’s weaknesses and inadequate preparation, as well as the Communist Party of India’s (CPI) political weaknesses (it was a considerable force in the union but played a poor role), contributed to the defeat. But, above all, the state’s decision to use violence, including calling in the military and using army engineers to run the trains, broke the strike.

In 1980, Bombay textile workers mostly moved out of their older unions and formed the Mumbai Girni Kamgar Union. Datta Samant formally led the new organization, but it enjoyed far greater working-class control and participation than is typical in Indian unions. The massive textile strike lasted over a year but ended in the workers’ defeat.

And the political crisis of the Idian Left in the late 1980s and early 1990s has to be taken as the third major defeat. The restoration of capitalism in the bureaucratized workers’ states and the Tiananmen Square violence weakened the political positions of both the Moscow and the Beijing oriented parties. As a result, while relatively speaking left trade unions were stronger at that time, and left parties too, in sheer numerical and parliamentary terms, in political terms they were able to come up with very limited responses.

The largest left party — the Communist Part of Indian (Marxist)(CPI(M)) — supported neoliberal policies when they were in power in West Bengal, and were voted out in 2011. Worse, they drastically lost touch with their traditional base.

Meanwhile, the number of workers led by the Central Trade Unions(CTUs) shrank. Between 1991 and 2006, almost nine hundred thousand jobs in the nationalized sector disappeared. Compounding this, India has not delivered a meaningful increase in the number of private‑sector jobs either. The National Sample Survey Office data on jobs in 2011 showed that between 2004–5 and 2009–10, only one million jobs were added. Meanwhile, the economy was growing at a record average of 8.43 percent annually, and, shockingly, 55 million people joined the labor force.

The fable of trickle-down economics stands exposed for the lie it was from the start. For example, in its 2015–16 annual report, Reliance Industries — India’s largest private-sector company, which even used Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s face to launch their latest mobile phone service — announced a 2.9 trillion rupee (INR) (US$43.5 billion) annual revenue and INR 27 billion (US$405.6 million) net profit. For comparison, in 1991–92, their net profit only reached INR 1.6 billion (US$24 million).

The trends in employment, productivity, and wages provide a clear enough picture if we read through the jargon. The Conference Board reported that, in 2014, productivity bounced back, rising one percent that year. “The recent increase in productivity growth,” it goes on, “resulted solely from an increase in output growth . . . without any improvement in employment growth, which actually dropped slightly, from 1.9 percent in 2013 to 1.8 percent in 2014.”

The report recommended that India “recommit to its structural reform agenda by improving the flexibility of the labor market and opening up more sectors of the economy to foreign direct investment” “to realize its full productivity potential.”

Finally, the report mourned “a severe lack of skilled employees” which produces “wage inflation, especially among the most highly skilled” and “underscores the need for productivity improvements.”

To put it more simply: productivity increased because output grew while employment went down. Further, the scarcity of skilled workers meant some had to be given relatively better wages. Improving productivity, which increases output without hiring more workers, will further de-skill workers and drive down wages.

The Workers’ Demands

The nature of labor conflicts has changed significantly. In 1970, strikes outnumbered lockouts nine to one and 1.5 million workers struck. By 1990, striking workers dropped to 804,000, barely more than half the number in 1970. Person-days lost in disputes came down from 20 million in 1970 to 12 million in 1990.

Since then, the most significant development has been the general strike. Over the past twenty-five years, Indian workers have held seventeen one- or two-day walkouts. This strategy reaches above individual owners, bureaucrats, and management, targeting instead the entire ruling class.

The bourgeois media and the government tend to portray them as the work of communists. But as time passes — and as the strength of the CPI and the CPI(M) continues to decline — the red scare becomes less effective and less believable.

Since 2010, general strikes have demanded a government-set minimum wage. During the first action after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came to power in 2014, workers demanded INR 15,000 (US$223.87) per month. In 2016, the demand was hiked to INR 18,000 (US$268.64).

Calculating a six-day week, this amounts to about INR 692 (about US$10.33) per day with four paid days off each month. Both the India National Congress (INC) and the BJP have flatly ignored these demands.

The Minimum Wages Act of 1948 calls for the government to review wages every five years, but it rarely does. The construction sector last had a revision in 2009, and agricultural minimum wages haven’t changed since 2005. The unions rightly rejected the government’s offer — which came just days before the strike — to hike the minimum wage to INR 9,000.

Of course, wages weren’t the only thing at stake. Workers also called on the government to stabilize prices — universalizing the public distribution system and banning speculative trade in the commodity market — to generate employment, to actually enforce the existing labor laws, and to punish those who break them. Alongside improvements to their working conditions, they demanded universal social security, including INR 3,000 monthly pensions, reinvestment in the public sector, and an end to foreign direct investment in railways, insurance, and defense. They also want the government to give organized labor more power by approving new trade unions, ratifying relevant International Labour Organization conventions, and discussing labor-law amendments with trade unions before enacting them.

A survey of food consumption and prices demonstrates how urgent these issues are.

A recent study showed that, in rural India — home to 833 million people — food consumption has dropped when compared over the past four decades. “On average, compared to 1975–79, a rural Indian now consumes 550 fewer calories and 13 gm [less] protein, 5 mg [less] iron, 250 mg [less] calcium, and about 500 mg [less] vitamin A.”

It’s even worse for children, who consume “80 ml of milk per day instead of the 300 ml they require.” As the survey states, “[t]his data explains, in part, why 35 percent of rural men and women were found to be undernourished, and 42 percent of children were underweight.”

India’s response to this uncomfortable data was to shut down the National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau — the only source of longitudinal data on nutrition levels and food intake across the country. Now, this sort of macro-level data will not be easily available.

Between 2004 and 2013, food prices rose 157 percent. India is the second largest producer of vegetables in the world, but vegetable prices shot up by 350 percent. Milk prices rose 119 percent, and egg prices by 124 percent.

Food inflation has averaged 8.46 percent from 2012 to 2016. India’s annual consumer price inflation accelerated to a near two-year high of 5.76 percent in May of this year, driven by surging prices of food products such as pulses and sugar. This explains why price stabilization and a universal public distribution system take center stage in the current strike.

Contract Labor


Recent studies show that contract labor is on the rise in India, as it is almost

everywhere else. This trend denies casualized workers most of the rights and

benefits permanent workers enjoy. Indian capitalists regularly complain that

inflexible labor laws hold up growth. Of course, if wages are driven down, profits will

soar. (This was one Modi’s major achievements as Gujarat chief minister, which

recommended him to the national bourgeoisie.)

In 2013, the labor ministry estimated that contract workers made up nearly 28 percent of India’s 459 million-strong workforce. A more recent survey — with samples from eighty-two companies that employ 2.12 million permanent employees and 1.08 million contract workers — showed a vast difference across sectors.

In industrial companies, contract workers now take 46 percent of the jobs. The automobile industry — where labor unrest has been more visible in recent years — contracts out 47 percent. But that number is higher in the energy and utilities sectors — 54 percent — and in cement manufacturing — 52 percent.

In the engineering sector, Larsen and Toubro Ltd (L&T) skews the total, thanks to its size and its preference for temporary workers. If L&T is excluded, the sector only has 22 percent contract workers, but including L&T’s figures pushes it up to 75 percent.

Compared to industry, the service sector has a lower ratio of contract to permanent workers. Software and financial services still have relatively high levels of regular employees — thanks to the specialized skills needed and, in the case of banking, regulatory measures. But telecom stands out: 46 percent of its workforce is casual, the same share as the industrial sector.

Even in banking, the wide use and expanded functions of ATMs — they now print passbooks and change big notes for small ones, among other things — has pushed the industry toward contract workers.

Further, the 2007–8 Economic Survey found that 93 percent of India’s labor force is unorganized. According to the World Bank, India had a total workforce of 496.9 million in 2014. This means — if the unorganized sector is still 93 percent — that 462.2 million workers do not belong to unions.

This low union density shows that the recurrent general strikes come from deep dissatisfaction mounting from within the working class — and certainly not from any trade-union bureaucracy’s manipulations.

The Strike Itself

It would be ideal to perform a province-by-province and sector-by-sector assessment of the most recent action, but we do not have full data on that. The unions themselves hesitated to mention specific figures. Not surprising, given that, in many areas, small independent or local unions — not connected to the CTUs — organized the strike.

However, the media came up with the figure of approximately 180 million striking workers. This would make it the biggest strike in Indian, and possibly international, history.

According to the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM), the 2013 two-day strike cost INR 260 trillion (US$4.8 billion). ASSOCHAM estimated that this general strike would lead to INR 180 trillion (US$2.7 billion, considering the fluctuating exchange rate) in lost revenue.

In some sectors, the strike was a thumping success. Banks and other financial institutions saw a complete shutdown. One estimate suggested some 500,000 bank employees went on strike, affecting transactions worth INR 150 trillion. Resistance from bank employees has been a vital element in slowing down privatization in that sector.

Coal and other mines also showed a considerable degree of success in the strike, although much of the worker’s activity was shut down. Newspaper reports indicates that the Communist Party of India (Maoist) — which is quite active in the Dhanbad region — worked alongside traditional unions to promote the strike effort. This is not as yet a sysematic turn in their political strategy, which mostly focuses on guerrilla action and the goal of creating “liberated zones”. But this is certainly a welcome step, and should be a basis for negotiating with them.

Actions spread across every province. In Gujarat, around 70,000 workers from anganwadis (rural healthcare centers) and accredited social health workers (ASHAs), most of them unorganized, joined the strike. Thousands participated in the demonstrations held at district headquarters.

Port workers in Bhavnagar (Gujarat), Gangavaram, and Kakinada (both in Andhra Pradesh) dropped their tools. Once again, these workers did not belong to any of the CTUs.

In Kerala, harbors and all industries were affected. In Karnataka, an estimated 5 million workers participated, and in the cities of Bengaluru and Mysore, the transport sector strike was total. In Bengaluru alone, 1.9 million workers joined the strike.

Haryana had huge participation and repression to match. On August 13, the Maruti Suzuki Workers Union, which has been a militant section of the working class for many years now, gave management a strike notice.

The state responded quickly. Khushi Ram, a former Maruti worker who is now a member of Workers’ Solidarity Center, which organizes automobile workers in the region, said, “We reached Manesar very early to start campaigning for the general strike but the police detained us six hours.” They were distributing pamphlets for the national strike. The police took thirteen workers and union leaders into detention before 7 AM.

An estimated 1,500 automobile units — including large manufacturers like Hero Motorcorp and Honda as well as smaller vendor companies in Manesar, Bawal, and Dharuhera — were also affected by the strike.

The strike wasn’t total everywhere. In Neemrana, Rajasthan, home to a Japanese manufacturing zone, 450 permanent workers at an air conditioner factory walked out. Manmohan, a former worker — dismissed after an agitation in 2015 — explained that “only the permanent workers in the plant were able to come out. . . , but nearly 2,000 workers who are on short term contracts could not, as they feared the repercussions.”

In Telangana, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi Party-affiliated union joined the strike, and the labor wing of the ruling Telugu Desam Party(TDP) in Andhra supported the strike.

The party, however, did not sign off on the action in  Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh — but worker-members joined anyway. In these two states, in fact, the strike was extensive, including even the transportation sector.

The transport strike in several cities and towns in Madhya Pradesh — which is BJP controlled — was total. Traditional markets also participated, affecting commercial transactions.

In many Maharashtra cities — including Pune, Aurangabad, Nagpur, Nasik, Solapur, and Mumbai — strike participation was high, shuttering companies like Ceat Ltd, ThyssenKrupp, Samsonite India, Crompton Greaves, and disrupting the pharmaceutical, liquor, and textile industries. The strike was total among beedi and power loom workers in Solapur.

In Odisha, iron, manganese, and coal mine workers put on a total strike. Their casualized comrades also participated en masse. Road transport — including auto-rickshaws — was totally paralyzed.

In Punjab, road transport as well as a number of other industries remained shut. Unorganized workers participated in the thousands.

In Tamil Nadu, the ruling All Indian Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam Party (AIADMK) tried to use force to break the strike, but workers disrupted the Tiruppur garment industry. Coimbatore’s heavy industry — in both the private and the public sector — was also affected.

Government employees nationwide had issued strike notices. A significant number of state‑government employees in the northeastern states — including Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Meghalaya — participated. Central government employees — income tax employees and postal employees in particular — also joined. Defense employees in several production units took part. Employees of the state-owned telecom company BSNL walked out, too.

In West Bengal, the rabidly anti-communist Trinamool Congress government led by Mamata Banerjee went flat out to stop the workers. They declared the strike a bandh, taking advantage of a legal technicality that makes bandhs illegal. The government also issued a notice that, except for specific reasons like illness or bereavement, no worker was allowed to be absent. The order included the workdays surrounding the strike as well. That this was intended to break the strike became obvious when the government granted extra leave for all workers who had attended on September 2. All over West Bengal, some two hundred people were arrested, including Asok Bhattacharya, the CPI(M) mayor of Siliguri Municipal Corporation.

One sector that drew back this time was education. In the past, teachers have taken part seriously, and with good reason. At all levels, full-time jobs have disappeared, and contract teachers — overworked and underpaid — have increased.

However, teachers’ associations have been steadily moving away from militant struggle. Many of college and university associations are led by full-time faculty, who are well paid and are looking forward to the University Grants’ Commissions announcement, which will raise starting wages to INR 50,000 (US$746) per month. The highest ranking teacher can earn INR 200,000 (just under US$3,000) per month. Meanwhile, part-time and guest faculty are paid as little as INR 4000 (US$59.70) per month for teaching eight to ten classes each week.

Notions of gentility — “we are not a trade union” — and bureaucracy kept the academic sector from committing to the action; they only filed a formal strike notice. The biggest college teachers association in West Bengal and one of the backbones of the All India Federation, the West Bengal College and University Teachers Association, reported that only seventy-seven teachers formally took part in the strike. A large number did not work that day, but used ruses like medical or vacation leave. The failure to take up contractization in education seriously goes beyond the issue of how many participated in the 2016 strike. It means, that as India’s state funded education crumbles and enclaves of private education for the well to do take over, as the goal of education itself changes radically, seemingly leftist control over teachers’ associations does nothing to challenge thaose developments politically. Barring faculties from a handful of institutions like JNU or Jadavpur University, associations have forgotten that in the past AIFUCTO itself was built through a combination of struggles for education and wages. In recent times, struggles, such as that by teachers in Chicago, USA, have shown that agitations in the educational sector need to take up peoples’ concerns in a progressive direction along with bread and butter issues of the employees, and indeed that the two are linked. Indian educational sector employees from primary schools to universities need o ponder over this.

Women Workers

Globalization has had a serious impact on women workers. They have experienced four apparently contradictory trends: a simultaneous increase in paid labor, underpaid labor, unpaid labor, and open unemployment.

Further, the drive for cheap labor has meant that — even in the formal sector — labor laws are seldom applied equally. The minimum wage fixed by the government is already abysmally low, but bribes to factory inspectors, or threats to close down factories, often ensure that employers can pay women even less.

Nurseries — required by the 1987 Factories Act — are often not maintained. In fact, the law needs serious reconsideration: it requires nurseries in workplaces with thirty female workers. Activists demand that this be changed to thirty employees, regardless of gender. The law also exempts the service sector from providing nurseries. Both nurseries’ absence and the insistence that they only appear in women’s workplace have obvious gender implications.

The 1976 Equal Remuneration Act is also often ignored. Women tend to suffer from pay differentials in numerous forms. Due to worse access to education and consequently fewer skills, women often end up in lower-paid jobs. In some cases, formal job designations produce legal wages gaps. But in the informal sector, a straightforward pay differential still exists.

Especially in Indian manufacturing, women work in the lowest paid and most vulnerable sectors. Between 1999 and 2005, women took 3.7 million of the 9.7 million new jobs, mostly in export-oriented sectors like garment making. However, starting in 2009, India’s manufacturing sector suffered from a variety of problems, including power shortages and an export slowdown. Between 2005 and 2010, 3.7 million manufacturing jobs disappeared, taking back the gains of the previous decade. More than 80 percent of those who lost their jobs were women.

The urban sector has seen growth in women’s employment, and this was initially hailed as a step towards equality. But, as disaggregation showed, this growth was fueled above all by increases in domestic service — maids, cooks, and cleaners: hardly the most desirable or dynamic forms of work. These jobs accounted for 3 million more urban women workers in the period 1999 to 2005, far exceeding the increase in garments, leather, and IT-enabled activities. All across the economy, women’s jobs tend to cluster in the lowest paid sectors.

Women who participated in the strike added their perspective, whether or not these were taken up in the CTUs’ central charters. AsAmarjeet Kaur, secretary of the All India Trade Union Congress(AITUC), said, “The demand for minimum wages, pension, and equal pay for equal work apply to all sections of workers, whether male or female. But this does have a special bearing on women, since a majority of those working are in the unorganized sector.”

We have already mentioned the 70,000 unorganized anganwadi and ASHA workers who walked off the job. Both teaching and non-teaching staff of the National Child Labour Project joined the strike in Bihar, Maharashtra, and other area. Scheme workers, such as midday meal workers, also participated. In Karnataka, these workers stated that they were earning only INR 1,000 a month and demanded an increase to at least INR 7,000.

Jayamma, the general secretary of the Karnataka State UnitedAnganwadi Workers Association, says that most infant healthcare workers are women, and that the government privatization of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) poses a huge threat to them. She explained, “In addition to the demands of a minimum wage of INR 18,000, and a pension of INR 3,000 per month, we want the government to stop handing the ICDS scheme over to corporates and cutting down the allocation of the budget for it.”

ASHA workers in Noida, part of the National Capital Region, have been agitating for job regularization and minimum wages, but also basic respect for the work they do. “We bring pregnant women to a dispensary and ensure nutrition for newborns. We tour villages andmohallas to take government health schemes from paper to the ground. Yet, we end up facing taunts from villagers and harassment from government staff. We demand equal pay for equal work and most importantly, respect and recognition for our work,” says Asha Rani, an ASHA worker from Dankaur.

The women claim they are paid only INR 75 (US$1.12) per day. After the birth of any child, they have to perform house calls for the next forty-two days to check the newborn’s blood pressure and weight and provide vaccinations. They said they get just INR 250 (US$3.73) for this. “Even the reimbursement amount is not paid on time. If the amount comes to INR 1,500 we are paid only INR 1,000. The rest goes into the pockets of the bureaucracy,” alleged Kusum, from Dankaur.

Some 1.5 million tea-garden workers took part in the strike. While a significant number of women work in these gardens, they don’t join union leadership. As an activist from the Progressive Plantation Workers Union told us, developing a gendered charter of demands, with full participation from women workers, hasn’t happened, despite a high rate of women’s participation in the actual strikes.

In Delhi, nurses timed their strike to coincide with the general strike. Government-run hospitals employ around 20,000 nurses. They added specific demands to the general strike, including a higher entry-level pay scale and higher allowances. Nurses countrywide supported these actions in Delhi. The government responded by invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act, which declares strikes in certain services illegal and allows police to arrest strikers.

The Political Significance and Challenges before the Left

The continued struggles of the Indian workers explain an entire series of issues. First of all, when it has been said that the RSS and its web of organisations, the BJP being the electoral arm, constitutes fascism, there have been a series of objections. One of these is, fascism was something that arose and was supported by the bourgeoisie only because of the extreme strength of the working class – to stop the onward march of the proletarian revolution.  So why should we see the BJP as fascist?

As this is not a treatise on fascism we cannot discuss this at length. However, there are a few quick points to ponder. Germany and Italy were two quite distinct cases of fascism, and there was a range of far right movements and regimes which shared many of the family features. Thus, in the 1920s, Trotsky talked of the Polish nationalist rightwing regime as fascist, and in his 1930 writings he reproduced a few such passages. Second, the family resemblance between the RSS and classical fascism has been repeatedly pointed out.[i] Third, and that is the reason we have brought in this debate, the nature of the class struggle needs to be understood.

Yes, it is true that German and Italian fascisms arose in a period of revolutions and counter revolutions. In imitating them, so indeed did the RSS. But the Sangh Parivar has had to contend with many decades of a functioning, however weak, bourgeois democracy in India. The assumption that they would not adapt is to assume the enemy is necessarily stupid. Ad precisely because once the immediate post-1947 fear of a communist threat (Ranadive’s famous left line) dissipated, the ruling class has not often been keen upon a fascist solution with the RSS insisting upon an aggressive anti-Muslim component as the necessary price. But being pushed to the margins, the RSS had to develop an alternative strategy of building a long term mass movement and penetrate civil society deeply. The fact that a good part of the Indian capitalist class has shared the brahminical and Hindutva ideology of the RSS to an extent, has meant that even when it was pushed to the corners, I did not have a symmetrical relationship with the radical left, which would be consistently hounded, arrested, tortured, murdered, in ways the RSS cadres never faced. And the points of contact meant that when the decline of the Congress began, the RSS could push itself forward as an alternative.

In 2012-14, it was the Indian capitalist class that decided to turn to Modi and the RSS. They did so, ditching their historic party, the Congress, because the Congress, though it was committed to globalisation, was failing. The economic policies of the Congress are often portrayed as centrist or centre left. In fact, it is deeply right wing.  Between 1991 and 2014, the Congress was in power for 15 years, about double that of the BJP.  But electoral weakening, a series of alliances, meant that the Congress was compelled to go slow, to, at times, not carry out the promised “economic reforms”. So the decision came, to anoint Modi and the BJP. It was the bourgeois media that portrayed the elections of 2014, not as a battle fought seat by  seat, as it had always been, but through a counterposition beween Modi and Rahul Gandhi, as though this was the US Presidential election.

The single minded devotion of the Congress for the ruling class cannot be gainsaid. Since 1991, the Indian state has looked after big business through tax breaks, through the creation of SEZs, through excise/import duty concessions. Indian companies pay an average of 17 per cent tax on their profits, less than half the rate in the west. Consumer goods for the affluent – cars, computers, air conditioners, etc, cost less in absolute rupees than they did a decade ago – inflation notwithstanding.  The single-minded devotion with which capitalist policies have helped business is evident in the growth of India’s high net worth individuals, whose disposable income exceeds $ 1 million. Their number grew from 61,000 in 2003 to 83,000 in 2005. At the other end is the accumulation of poverty, the rise in price of basic food items, in basic housing, basic education and healthcare, especially in relation to real wages.

This is what has resulted in working class fight-backs. Contrary to the hopes of the ruling class, the weakening of left parties, their submission o dictations of neoliberal capitalism, or their submission to ultranationalist dictats in domains like Kashmir, have not meant the end of the working class resistance. Given that Indian capitalism has been attempting to climb up within the global capitalist pecking order, it cannot afford o make compromises with labour militancy, especially as China competes heavily and much better, and the downturn in the West meant pressure upon India. That was why a far more ruthless regime was necessary, one that would try to finish off working class organisations. It is not surprising that the demand for right to form new trade unions, as well as the demand that labour laws must not be changed without consultations with the unions, were among the prominent demands of the general strike.

These struggles also show the complex relationship between class, organisations of the class, and between parties and unions. Since only a small fraction of the working class is unionised, the biggest union was the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh which did not take part in the strike, the participation of 180 millions indicates that it went far beyond the members, not only of the Central Trade Unions, but of all unions. In that sense, it was the popular anger, from below, that was articulated. At the same time, there is no doubt that the CTUs, especially the left CTUs, that is, the CITU (affiliated to the CPIM), the AITUC (affiliated to the CPI), and the smaller UTUC (RSP) and UTUC- LS (SUCI-C), played a pivotal role, in getting numerous unions to come together, chalk out a demand charter, and campaign sufficiently so that other unions and non-unionised workers too would come and join.

The other side of the story is the fact that the CTUs, including the AITUC and the CITU, have clearly reached a critical stage. The CTUs, unlike parties, are based directly on the working class and cannot afford to have the class entirely atomised. Nor can they ignore the pressure of the workers altogether. Contrary to the kind of ultra-leftism that can see only treason in the work of the CTUs, we argue that it is because the trade union bureaucracies are based on the workers, they cannot accept the changing framework that has been developing for the last quarter century.

At the same time, they are indeed bureaucratic unions. Workers do not identify so much with the unions. This often comes out, as with local agitations where union leaderships are bypassed, as happened in the Hukumchand Jute Mills, one of West Bengal’s biggest jute mills, last year.

Union leaders recognize the problems. They are aware that without some degree of union militancy bargaining is difficult. This makes their position somewhat different from the position of the left parties, even if the same union leader might be a CITU leader and a CPI(M) leader.

And in course of their struggles, workers have been compelled to come together, to form alternative unions. Sometimes these are unions led by smaller left parties, less parliamentary in orientation. Sometimes these are local non party unions. On occasion these might be the starting point of a militant alternative country-wide union, like the New Trade Union Initiative. While none of these have posed a sufficient alternative at once, these fights are parts of what have made possible the remarkable continuation of working class struggles even as electoral figures seem to suggest that the working class, in the form of the old left parties, is about to vanish. This contradiction cannot go on existing forever. Either parts of the old left and the radical left, together with the militant class struggle poles emerging at the base, come together for a new left alternative, or the radical right offensive will smash down on the working class.

 



[i]See for example Sumit Sarkar, The Fascism of the Sangh Parivar (1993), http://www.sacw.net/DC/CommunalismCollection/ArticlesArchive/sSARKARonSANGHPARIVAR.html;

Kunal Chattopadhyay, The Fascist Upsurge (1993), http://www.radicalsocialist.in/articles/national-situation/64-the-fascist-upsurge-1993 ;

Jairus Banaji, Fascism: Essays on Europe and India, 2nd Edition, Three Essays Collective, Gurgaon, 2016. (This also includes Sarkar’s essay).

Imperialist feminism

 

Issue #102: International Socialist Review 
http://isreview.org/issue/102/imperialist-feminism 
 

This is a modified version of a presentation given 
at Socialism, a conference held in Chicago in July, 2015. Audio files of presentations from this yearly event can be found at wearemany.org.

On International Women’s day this past March, a global campaign was launched to tackle gender inequality and violence against women. This is certainly a much-needed campaign, especially if we look at what women have experienced over the last few years. For instance, in the United States military, rape and sexual assault is a major problem. In 2012, an estimated 26,000 rapes and sexual assaults took place—and keep in mind that only one in seven victims report these attacks. In Britain, after the financial crisis of 2008, domestic violence spiked dramatically, and by 2010 had increased by 35 percent. In Afghanistan, after the US/NATO occupation and the rise of the warlords to commanding positions, sexual and physical violence against women increased significantly. Last year, when Israel attacked Gaza and killed over 2,000 people, a significant percentage of the dead were women and girls. Looking at this picture, we can

conclude that there is a dire need to build an international campaign to fight against the physical and sexual violence that women experience around the world from the United States to the UK, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, India, and beyond.

However, this global campaign is not that. Backed by a large number of international organizations, this campaign, which is calling itself India’s Daughter, in fact doesn’t address any of the issues noted above. India’s Daughter is a British documentary film made by Leslee Udwin that tells the story of a brutal gang rape in Delhi in December 2012 that led to the death of Jyoti Singh, 23, a medical student, and the month-long street protests that followed demanding an end to violence against women.* The campaign is tied to this film which has been shown in numerous countries around the world from Canada to Norway to the United States, with the support and backing of celebrities such as Meryl Streep and Freida Pinto. If you look at the issues included on the campaign website, it lists everything from rape to domestic violence, “honor based violence,” child marriage, infanticide, and so on. But what’s interesting is that the only time that white women in the West make an appearance as victims in this so-called “global campaign” is in the section on “Equality,” where the wage gap between men and women in the United States and UK are discussed. The section on rape doesn’t mention rape in the United States (either in the military or college campuses, where one in five women are raped); instead, the focus is on war rape and the examples given are of Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Yugoslavia. Is it any wonder, then, that the first goal of this campaign is to target 20 million school pupils and rural communities in India?

The question we might ask is why this campaign is called “India’s Daughter” rather than “America’s Daughter” or “The American Problem” because, after all, not only is sexual violence against women a massive issue in this country but also, around the same time as the Delhi rape, in Steubenville, Ohio, a sixteen-year-old girl was gang raped and sexually assaulted by a group of men. Why didn’t this case become the focus of a documentary and global campaign? What stands out for me is that the rape was filmed by a bystander who thought it was so normal and amusing for a young woman to be repeatedly raped that he posted it on YouTube. In the video, you hear him laughing hysterically and saying things like “She is so raped right now,” “She is deader than Trayvon Martin,” “They peed on her, that’s how you know she’s dead.” You see here how race and gender intersect, a point I will come back to. When this story broke, the level of misogyny shocked people, just as another story in 2014 did when a young man named Elliot Roger set out on a misogynistic campaign to kill women at a sorority house in Isla Vista, California for rejecting him. 

The India’s Daughter campaign says nothing about these “First World” problems. Instead the message is that rape, sexual violence, and other forms of female oppression take place elsewhere: in the Global South, in cultures that the West considers backward and barbaric, and not only is it not a problem here, but it the responsibility of women in the West to wage a moral crusade to rescue their Brown and Black sisters. This then is the logic of imperialist feminism in the twenty-first century, shaped by the deeply racist framework of the “clash of civilizations,” which is based on the idea that the West is a superior culture because it believes in democracy, human rights, secularism, women’s rights, gay rights, freedom of speech, and a whole host of other liberal values, whereas the Global South is barbaric, misogynistic, driven by religion, and illiberal. From this follows the “white man’s burden” and the “white woman’s burden” to intervene through any means necessary, including wars of colonization, to “liberate” less fortunate women in other parts of the world.

There are three points I want to explore and I welcome comments and suggestions since these are my preliminary thoughts on this issues. First, how did we get to a point where an India’s Daughter campaign can become the face of global feminism? I will argue that a number of factors come together in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries that shape the language and practice of imperialist feminism today. What is the historic context in which a number of factors have come together to shape imperialist feminism as it expresses itself in the twenty-first century? These factors include the neoliberal gutting of social welfare programs, the space that this has opened up for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), the corresponding NGO-ization of feminism, the launching of the “war on terror”, the appropriation of older orientalist tropes to serve imperial aims, and finally, the remaking of Western nation-states in line with the clash of civilizations framework. In other words, I think it is not enough to understand the phenomenon of imperialist feminism simply as liberation at gunpoint, instead we need to situate it within a broader historical context and examine the economic and political conditions that enable its rise to the level of what is today seen as common sense, not just in the West but among the middle and ruling classes in the Global South as well. 

Second, I will unpack the origins of imperial feminism going back to its heyday in the nineteenth century and argue that it is not enough to look only at how Brown and Black women were constructed within the dominant colonial logic, which is the focus of much scholarship on the topic, but to understand how white women were implicated within colonial politics. Some middle- and upper-class women supported colonialism, seeing it as a means to win rights for women. In reality, empire does not liberate women either in the colonies or in the metropole. I argue that women in imperial centers, particularly working-class women, have little to gain from empire. 

Finally, drawing on the work of various feminists I lay out a framework for how to talk about transnational feminist solidarity and present a few analytical propositions for how we might create a genuine grassroots global feminist movement.

Neoliberalism—the current form in which capitalism is organized—has brought with it a series of changes over the last few decades. In contrast to earlier economic models where the state, or the government, provided for its citizen’s needs in the form of social welfare programs, subsidized food programs, public schooling, state provided health care, and so on. (Here I am drawing a global picture—in the United States other than Medicare and Medicaid, we’ve never had an entirely state-run healthcare system like in Canada or the UK. In developing nations you have subsidized food programs that are far more extensive than the limited food-stamps program that we have here. In a previous era there was a notion that the state had a part to play in meeting the social needs of a society.) This notion has been attacked, and all these programs either gutted or dismantled in the era of neoliberalism. 

Privatization and the attack on social programs do two things for neoliberalism: they open up new opportunities for investment (private parks, private schools, privatized child care etc.), and they force onto individual families various social reproduction tasks which invariably fall on the shoulders of women, who provide them, free of cost out of “love” and “duty.” Working-class families are especially impacted. Because they cannot afford various things that have been privatized, they are more vulnerable at the workplace, more reliant on their low-paying jobs, and less able to resist the neoliberal assault. 

There is another unique form created by neoliberalism: the NGO. The withdrawal of state and public resources from the processes of social reproduction creates a gap that NGOs have been able to fill over the last few decades. We have seen a massive growth in NGOs from the 1980s to the present. Today it would not be an exaggeration to say that NGOs have become crucial players in national and global politics, especially on questions related to women’s welfare and rights. By 2000 they were disbursing between twelve and fifteen billion dollars, by 2012 in some parts of the world, the NGO sector had become more powerful than the state. 

But it is in the 1990s that NGOs become a force to be reckoned with, and half of all international NGOs were focused on three issues—women’s rights, human rights, and the environment. This focus on human rights is not accidental; it comes into being with the end of the Cold War, and the birth, or rebirth, of humanitarianism as the justification for imperial interventions in a whole host of countries from Iraq to Somalia to Yugoslavia. In this context, humanitarian NGOs and human rights groups abandoned their tradition of neutrality in conflicts, calling instead for military intervention by Western powers, and even collaborating in invasions and occupations. CARE agitated for UN intervention in Somalia to end the famine in the early 1990s. World Vision and Human Rights Watch argued for military intervention against Serbia to protect Muslims in Srebrenica; Oxfam argued for the NATO attack against Serbia to stop ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. In later decades, Amnesty USA would conduct a campaign to ask NATO to continue its occupation of Afghanistan. The United States has been happy to incorporate NGOs into military planning, operations, and postwar occupations. Colin Powell had this to say about humanitarian NGOs in Afghanistan: they were a “force multiplier for us, an important part of our combat team.” After military conquests, aid agencies took on state-like functions such as running health, education, and welfare systems.

The appeal of NGOs in the war on terror, and for neoliberalism generally, is that they privatize social functions and put various social reproduction needs in the hands of entities that are easily controlled by corporations and powerful states. Because NGOs rely on funds from various donors, they are bureaucratically organized entities designed to be accountable to their donors, be they governments or private institutions. Needless to say, these entities are seen as less threatening than social movements, which can’t be controlled as easily.

Feminist and women’s NGOs operate in this general context. Additionally, they have been shaped by various UN conferences on women held in Mexico City, Nairobi, and Beijing. It was actually at the Beijing women’s conference in 1995, the conference at which Hillary Clinton made her now famous speech that “women’s rights are human rights,” that NGOs came to world attention and to the forefront of feminist activism.

Sabine Lang refers to this process as the “NGO-ization of feminism,” and what she means by this is not only the massive growth of feminist NGOs over the 1990s and 2000s, but also a process whereby feminist activism has shifted from participation in political/social movements to advocacy and action in and through feminist NGOs. Now this is not all bad; feminist scholars have pointed out that in regions where there is little or no social support, NGOs provide badly needed services and have been advocates for women’s rights. NGOs aren’t a monolith; there certainly are some NGOs doing good work in many parts of the world. But it is also important to note that the best funded NGOs, and therefore the most powerful NGOs, are tied to all sorts of corporations and international agencies, and have also co-opted and demobilized movement activism in favor of a liberal rights-based approach and a politics of capitalist development with an overall framework that upholds the legitimacy of empire and capital. 

For example, in Gaza and the West Bank there has been a massive increase in the number of NGOs since the 1990s, but the result of this has been to demobilize the Palestinian women’s movement, which used to be political, activist, and grassroots. Additionally, various human rights activists and researchers have complained that work they had done documenting the impact on women of the Israeli occupation and its siege of Gaza miraculously just disappears from the final reports produced by groups like Human Rights Watch. The result is that the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which is an important and foundational context for the oppressive conditions that Palestinian women live under, is erased from the picture. In this way, the structuring reality of occupation and empire is removed, which then makes it possible to offer limited individualistic solutions that don’t challenge the underlying causes. To make matters worse, social movements are demobilized and the best activists are sucked into NGOs. 

Another trend is the commercialization of human rights work; take the case of the eight-month campaign called “Beauty without Borders” in Afghanistan. It was funded by Revlon, L’Oreal, and other cosmetic companies to the tune of three quarters of a million dollars. The goal was to teach Afghan women how to be beauticians as a route to liberation. (Of course the beauty companies got a nice little public relations boost out of it, not to mention profits and new markets for the sale of their products.) 

One of the women who ran the program said, “When I first came to Kabul, I was shocked at what these women did to their hair and faces.” She added, “They would use henna, which is horrible for your hair. The scissors looked like hedge trimmers. They used buckets from nearby wells outside to rinse hair. I asked one of the girls to do my make-up once and I looked like a drag queen.” So teaching beauty tips became a crusade for this woman, because that was apparently the most serious need for women in war-torn Afghanistan. Rather than ask why women have to get water from nearby wells not simply to wash their hair but also for their daily needs, and what might be done to provide clean running water in people’s homes, this NGO staffer was focused instead on beauty standards. Of course, not all people who work for NGOs are this ignorant or racist, but we do have to question the logic behind such programs. The logic is to provide beauty skills to women so that they can start a beauty salon, which is based on a developmental/modernization approach that “empowers” women by training them to be entrepreneurs. This modernization framework of training individuals to own their own business as a means of liberation is a dominant framework in the NGO world. This is why Jyoti Singh can become the poster-girl for a documentary like India’s Daughter. While Singh should be admired for her hard work and determination—she worked a night job to put herself through medical school and harbored dreams of building a hospital in her home town—she is the kind of person who can be appropriated into the individualistic logic of developmental modernization. She is lionized for taking advantage of the all opportunities afforded her by neoliberal India while leaving unquestioned a system that forces people like her to work night jobs when in fact education should be free. 

At any rate, there are many examples of the commercialization of women’s liberation like the “Beauty without Borders” campaign. As Lila Abu-Lughod in her book Do Muslim Women Need Saving? notes, 

The One in Three Women Global Campaign to raise awareness around violence against women asks that you buy their cards, charms, and dog tags. Peacekeeper Cause-metics asks you to support women’s causes by purchasing their lipstick and nail polish. They only give a fraction of this money to fight violence against women in Muslim-majority countries. Hirsi Ali’s foundation is only the most recent to pick up this commercialization of women’s rights inviting us to get our own high-quality “honor” tote bag for a donation.

Today, the way to show solidarity with women around the world is reduced to shopping and charity. 

The upshot of all these processes is that by 2010 we have a situation in which neoliberalism has thoroughly saturated and consolidated the practice and rhetoric of imperialist feminism. It is in this sense that the imperialist feminism today is of a different kind than its nineteenth-century counterpart. While it shares much in common with its precursor, it also has its own unique characteristics. 

What is similar between what was called “Colonial Feminism” and what is today called imperial feminism?

Colonial Feminism comes into being in the nineteenth century in the context of European colonization of large parts of the world. In order to justify colonialism, as Edward Said teaches us, a new body of ideas was produced called Orientalism, based on the notion that the West is superior and the East, which is backward, is in need of civilizing. Eastern and Muslim women would become a central part of this Orientalist framework. Many scholars have shown that Muslim women were cast in one of two ways: first as sex objects in a fantasy world of the harem, or second as downtrodden victims who were imprisoned, secluded, shrouded, and treated as the slaves of men. In both constructions, it fell upon various colonial officials and overlords to supposedly rescue these women.

In reality, of course, the liberation of Eastern women has never been on the agenda for colonial powers. As one nineteenth-century French official put it, “If we are to strike against Algerian society’s capacity to resist, then we must first of all conquer their women,” adding, “We have to go and find these women, under the veils they hide behind.’”

In her book Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror, Christine Delphy, following Marnia Lazreg, states that the 

French did nothing to help North African women. But they carried out a few “un-veiling” campaigns during the Algerian War . . . under the pretext of “liberating women.” In reality, the purpose of these campaigns—like the rapes committed by soldiers or the use of “lascivious” native women in brothels—was to demoralize the Algerian men by “stealing” their last bit of property: women.

Additionally, attacks on the veil and attacks on Islam were a means by which to de-fang the national liberation movement that used Islam as an ideological glue to bring people together to stand up to French imperialism.

When the British invaded and occupied Egypt in 1882, Lord Cromer, who oversaw the occupation, claimed to be liberating women. He had very specific views about Islam, about women and the veil, and he wrote about all three. He wrote that Islam as a religion is a “complete failure” and is responsible for the “degradation of women.” Unlike Christianity, which he claimed led Western men to “elevate” women to a high status, in Islam the practices of veiling and segregation leads Muslim men to “degrade” women and in the process they wind up inferior themselves. To uplift Egyptians, according to Cromer, they must be “persuaded or forced to imbibe the true spirit of Western civilization.”

It is important to note that it was not just colonial overlords who developed this line of argument, there were various native collaborators who helped with this project too. Qasim Amin, a French-educated upper middle-class lawyer, wrote a book called The Liberation of Women (1899), which reflected and reproduced colonial arguments. It is rumored that Cromer actually asked him to write this book and indeed, Leila Ahmed’s analysis shows how it is not only obsequious in its praise for the West and harsh in its denunciation of Egypt, but it is actually antifeminist. Amin argued that Muslim societies had to abandon their backward ways and follow the Western path to civilization and success, and this would happen by Muslim mothers following the “noble duty” that mothers in “advanced societies” had, which was to raise good sons. Liberation meant liberation from Islam, so that Muslim women could be turned into good, docile, Victorian mothers. The Liberation of Women is not about the liberation of Egyptian women or European women, but about making them better adjuncts and caregivers to men. Did Cromer’s policies liberate Egyptian women? Absolutely not. Ahmed shows how the British placed all sorts of restrictions on women’s education that were detrimental to their advancement.

Instead, Cromer and Amin are obsessed by the veil and insist that women remove it. Critics of Cromer and Amin, particularly Egyptian feminists in the early twentieth century, argued that the veil was a red herring. They argued that what was needed to advance the cause of women’s liberation was access to education and health care, the ability to work outside the home, and rights related to marriage and divorce. Without these rights, simply taking off the veil would do nothing to elevate the status of women.

In addition to men like Cromer and Amin, various women also participated in the project of imperialist feminism. Various missionary women who traveled to Egypt and other parts of the world would argue that only Christianity could save the poor, downtrodden Muslim women. Here is how one European missionary put it: “Muslim women needed to be rescued by their Christian sisters from the ‘ignorance and degradation’ in which they live.” British feminists, particularly upper- and middle-class white women who were active in the struggle for suffrage, would also jump on this bandwagon. As Antoinette Burton shows, the argument that suffragists made was that if Britain was to be a truly great civilization and great colonial power, then what was needed was to give women equal rights. In other words, various suffragists adopted the Orientalist notion of the West as superior, and used that line of argument to assert that women deserved the right to vote in order to make the Empire truly great. Writing about British women supporters of empire, Indrepal Grewal in Home and Harem says: 

As travelers, ethnologists, missionaries, and reformers, Englishwomen could show their equality with Englishmen by participating in the colonial project that was defined in purely heterosexual, masculinist terms as a “penetration” and “mastery” of “virgin” territory of feminine and weak cultures. By such participation, they could uphold their supposed racial and national superiority over Eastern women that, many Englishwomen felt, justified their possession of equal rights with men.

In reality, colonialism did not benefit the cause of women’s rights in either the colony or  the metropole. For instance, Lord Cromer, the supposed champion of Egyptian women’s rights, was a strong antisuffragist in Britain. He was a founding member and the president for a period of the National League for Opposing Women’s Suffrage. We can call him a hypocrite, but in fact he was not; he was simply using women’s rights to advance empire in Egypt, and back home he upheld Victorian gender norms. Keep in mind that British women at the time had few rights—neither the right to vote, to own property, to sue, etc. When she was married she pretty much became the property of her husband and, as such, marital rape was the right of husbands. This was the order that Cromer sought to uphold in Britain.

This is why the imperialist feminist narrative is a false feminism. It not only fails to address or “liberate” Eastern women, but it also does a disservice to Western women. In presenting Western women as being already liberated because they are a part of a “superior civilization,” this rhetoric obscures the very real oppression faced by women in the heart of empire. It further drives a wedge between Eastern and Western women that is predicated on racism, nationalism, and the logic of civilizational superiority. Even though ruling-class white women in Britain may have benefitted financially from the spoils of empire, they too, like their working-class counterparts, lost out politically. 

The same attitude was expressed by Lord Curzon, viceroy of India. When he finished his term and was set to leave India, he gave a speech lavishing praise on his wife for the work that she had done to “uplift” Indian women. However, upon returning home, he took over from Lord Cromer the presidency of the League to Oppose Women’s Suffrage. Grewal writes:

A list of antisuffragists published in 1910 and 1911 by the Anti-Suffrage Review lists Kipling, Cromer, Curzon, and Joseph Chamberlain, all men who had much to do with England’s imperialist policies. For these men, the empire was a symbol of masculinity and Englishwomen were the keepers of morals and the angels of the house; colonial matters . . . were not to touch these women, as Kipling’s fiction reveals. Furthermore, women were considered unqualified to make decisions in the masculine enterprise of empire. For instance, a member of Parliament, Mr. J. A. Grant, said in the House of Commons in 1913: “In controlling a vast Empire like our own, an Empire built by the mental and physical capacity of men, and maintained, as it always must be maintained, by the physical and mental capacity of masterly natures—I ask; ‘is there a place for women?’”

The answer to this question, of course, is “no.” Empire, and particularly war, is a masculine enterprise, and it relies on a notion of white femininity that is docile and supportive. Such a world view does not benefit women but grants them, at best, second-class status. 

Even today, empire is still a masculine and sexist enterprise, but what has changed in the twenty-first century is that there is now a “place for women.” Thus, we see the likes of Hillary Clinton and Madeline Albright. But it is not just white women who are agents of empire; Black men like Colin Powell and Black women like Condoleezza Rice have been given leadership roles in the new imperial project. Additionally, native-collaborator roles are represented by women. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the Qasim Amin of today, having done more than anyone else to malign Muslim majority countries and sing the praises of empire, all the while masquerading as a “feminist.” But even with women and people of color at the helm of empire, racism and sexism still remain central to the imperial mission. 

Take Hillary Clinton for instance. She is a hawk and a strong defender of US imperialism. This means of course that she is silent on human-rights and women’s-rights violations in countries that the United States regards allies, such a Saudi Arabia, but when useful she will position herself as feminist. Her main claim to being a defender of women’s rights is the speech she made in Beijing in 1995, when she stated that women’s rights are human rights. Of course, if you look at her record back home you see that she willingly participated in the violation of women’s rights by supporting her husband’s move to end “welfare as we know it.” She had little to say when Bill Clinton threw Lani Guinier, his initial choice for assistant attorney general, under the bus, and she cozied up to the health care industry and sold out universal health care. [Since this talk, a new anthology, False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Clinton was published which explains why she is not a feminist]. But even beyond Clinton’s policy choices it would be fair to say that she has always accepted the status of a second-class citizen in relation to her husband. The most obvious instance of this is not just the adoption of his name but the contradiction between her persona abroad and that at home; even while she argued for women’s rights in Beijing, back home she remained the dutiful wife of Bill Clinton standing by her man despite his numerous infidelities. As much as roles change for women and people of color in the imperial drama, imperial feminism remains mired in sexism. 

This hasn’t stopped various Western nations from remaking themselves in the era of the war on terror as bastions of liberalism. Whether looking at France, the UK, Canada, or the United States, there is a pattern whereby these nations have branded themselves as the upholders of liberal values in a world where war, assassination through drone strikes, extensive surveillance, indefinite detention, and other such practices are presented as the only means by which to keep the “barbarians” at bay; illiberal actions are necessary to preserve liberalism. In other words, Islamophobia and racism are once again central to national identity in ways similar to what occurred at the highpoint of colonialism in the nineteenth century. This explains France’s ban on the headscarf and then the veil, all in the name of laïcité and the supposed liberation of Muslim women. This devotion to secularism is, however, highly selective. The French government pays for the upkeep of 36,000 churches, and pays the salaries of priests, pastors, and rabbis; half of all French children and teenagers are educated in religiously run, mostly Catholic schools. Take also the defense of “free speech” after the Charlie Hebdo massacre. Charlie Hebdo journalists were celebrated as defenders of free speech, because, it was claimed, they criticized all religions equally. In truth, Islam was the target of the “most frequent and vicious attacks” writes French feminist Delphy. There are also double stands in relation to French free speech laws; the “Gayssot law” makes it a crime to raise questions about the Holocaust. Thus, some kinds of speech are allowed and others disallowed. 

The end result is a selective appropriation of women’s rights, of secularism, of free speech as a way to remake the nation in classically colonial terms, with racism as its bedrock. The January 11, 2015 march for “national unity” was about strengthening French “values” and French nationalism in the context of a world supposedly characterized by a clash of civilizations. It is not surprising, therefore, that at this march were present Benjamin Netanyahu, Angela Merkel, and a whole host of other global leaders casting the West as a beacon of civilization fighting against the supposed barbarism of Islam. 

This is true not just of France but various Western nations. In the UK, schools are required to promote “fundamental British values.” John Nash, the schools minister, explained the program and these values as follows: “We want every school to promote the basic British values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance for those of different faiths and beliefs. This ensures young people understand the importance of respect and leave school fully prepared for life in modern Britain.” 

Thus, Modernity=West. Liberalism=West. 

After the Supreme Court ruling legalizing gay marriage in this country, the British surveillance agency GCHQ, probably the most invasive and extreme surveillance agency in the West, decorated its headquarters in rainbow colored lights! The CIA does the same; it routinely trots out its LGBTQ employees or showcases women in leadership positions, as ways to demonstrate its progressiveness. This strategy has been perfected by Israel, in what is called “pink washing.” 

In other words, what we have seen in the era of the war on terror is not only the remaking of Western nation states in classically colonial forms, albeit with important differences, but also the appropriation of the gains of various social movements, including feminism and gay liberation, as a way to advance the agenda of empire.

So, if we reject imperialist feminism as a false feminism, what alternative ways might we think about and how might we formulate a transnational feminist movement?

There is a lot we can say about this question, and feminists like Chandra Mohanty and others have written extensively about transnational feminism. What I want to emphasize are two central pillars of what I think would constitute real solidarity and internationalism. First, in place of charity, shopping, and donations as a way to address the oppression of women in the Global South, we need to insist that solidarity is about the recognition of mutual oppression. This means taking a comparative approach, one that admits that women all over the world face oppression, even if it looks different in different parts of the world, different within various regions in a particular nation, different for different classes of women, and different if we account for factors such as sexuality, race, ethnicity, age and ability. This is the basis from which people can work cooperatively with one another based on the recognition that all women, despite the aforementioned differences, face sexism. The universality of women’s oppression is due to the structuring reality of capitalism and imperialism. Second, and this follows from the first, we need to root our analysis of women’s oppression within the larger structures that produce this oppression and reject simplistic explanations that say religion or culture are primarily to blame.

What does it mean to take a comparative approach? First, we have to move away from the imperialist notion that misogyny only exists elsewhere in countries with “backward” cultures and religions, take a long hard look at the oppression that women face in the heart of empire, and explain how both are tied together. 

For example, women in various countries around the world are killed by family members. In Pakistan, this amounts to about a thousand. Pakistan is a country of 140 million people. This is a serious problem, and as feminists, progressives, and leftists, we shouldn’t paper over these realities. However, we should also challenge the ways in which these murders are characterized. To call them “honor killings” as if religion and culture are solely responsible for the murder of women, gives a complete pass to the larger economic, political, and social conditions that produce this violence. 

These conditions are important because a similar set of conditions produce horrific levels of violence against women in the United States. Here, 1500 women are killed by their spouses or boyfriends each year in what are called “crimes of passion.” From 2002 to 2012, the number of women killed by intimate partners was 15,462. The US has a population of 300 million, twice the size of Pakistan, but the figures nonetheless are comparable. However, in the mainstream framing of the issue of violence against women, we hear about the murders of women “out there,” but rarely about what happens here. Every day about four women are killed by intimate partners in the United States, but we don’t know their names, we don’t know their stories, and even when we do it is discussed as individual aberrations, crimes driven by passion, rather than by a society that systematically treats women as second class citizens. So rather than resort to this clash of civilizations framing, where “our” misogyny is either papered over or reduced to individual aberrations, while “theirs” is viewed as a product of their backward culture, what we need to do instead is to conduct a concrete analysis of what produces violence against women globally. This necessarily involves looking at structural factors rather than just culture, either “rape culture” or “Islamic culture.” 

Let me give another example: in the autumn of 2003 sexual violence and the trafficking in Iraqi women and girls rose dramatically. The fall back analysis to explain this spike is to say that Islam is to blame because Islam turns women into sexual slaves. In fact, this is not just lazy, but wrong. Feminists who have studied the situation for women in Iraq after the US invasion have shown that a major explanation for the rise in violence and trafficking is the loss of jobs for women. Seventy percent of salaried women in Iraq had government jobs, and when entire government ministries were dismantled by the United States after its invasion of that country, women lost their jobs. This meant that they had to earn their subsistence by selling their bodies. When we look at structural factors we find that claims that “culture” and “religion” are solely responsible for women’s oppression in the Middle East fall flat. This is why imperial feminists avoid structural analysis, because such an analysis reveals that empire bears the brunt of the blame. Let’s be clear about one more thing: Women in the West do not benefit from imperial feminism, particularly the vast majority of women who don’t occupy positions of power and wealth. When men are trained to be ruthless killers by the military, their wives, partners, and fellow female soldiers also pay a price. Domestic violence in military families is significantly higher than in civilian families, and tens of thousands of women are sexually assaulted every year in the military. Women also pay a price when trillions of dollars are spent on empire, money that could have been used to meet basic social reproduction needs.

At the end of the day, transnational solidarity is about tying together the struggle of people like Emma Sulkowicz (the Columbia University student who carried around the mattress she was raped on in order to call attention to the shoddy in way in which she was treated by the Columbia administration after she filed a rape complaint) with that of Jyoti Singh. There is a story to be told about the links between the rape of women on college campuses in the United States and the sexual violence that poor women in India experience. Take the case of rural Indian women who, because Pepsi is depleting the water table, have to walk long distances to collect water and who along the way are raped and sexually harassed. Those who run Pepsi back in the US, who are part a class of men who typically go to school at Columbia University and have been encouraged to think of themselves as “masters of the universe,” dehumanize women here in ways similar to the people they exploit in developing nations. 

It is not enough to simply talk about rape culture and misogyny here and “backward cultures” there, but instead to ground our analysis of sexual violence within the structural context of neoliberal capitalism and the ways in which it is restructuring people’s lives in various locations in the twenty-first century. When our feminism is based in an anticapitalist and anti-imperialist politics, we have a real basis for solidarity, one, moreover, that is rooted in material interests rather than morality and charity. At the end of the day, it is not beauty campaigns that are going to liberate women but their own self-activity and a politics of transnational solidarity based on a rejection of neoliberalism and empire. 

• For more on India’s Daughter, see ISR #97.

Books Cited

Lila Abu-Lughod, Do Muslim Women Need Saving? (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013).

Leila Ahmed, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1993).

Antoinette Burton, Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women, and Imperial Culture, 1865–1915 (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1994).

Christine Delphy, Separate and Dominate: Feminism and Racism after the War on Terror, (London: Verso Books, 2015).

Conor Foley, The Thin Blue Line: How Humanitarianism Went to War (London: Verso Books, 2008).

Inderpal Grewal and Victoria Bernal (eds), Theorizing NGOs: States, Feminisms, and Neoliberalism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014).

Inderpal Grewal, Home and Harem (Duke University Press, 1996).

Marnia Lazreg, Torture and the Twilight of Empire: From Algiers to Baghdad (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).

Chandra Talpade Mohanty, Feminism without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

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