Friday, March 14, 2008

*A Modest Proposal-Recruit, Run Independent Labor Militants in the 2008 Elections

Click on the headline to link to a Leon Trotsky Internet Archive online copy of his 1921 Report on “The Balance Sheet” of the
Third Congress of the Communist International.


COMMENTARY

IN THIS TIME OF THE ‘GREAT FEAR’ WE NEED CANDIDATES TO FIGHT FOR A WORKERS GOVERNMENT.

FORGET DONKEYS, ELEPHANTS AND GREENS- BUILD A WORKERS PARTY THAT FIGHTS FOR A WORKERS GOVERNMENT!


Repost 2008

I am reposting this commentary that I have been running periodically since September 2006 as a propaganda piece to drum up support for a workers party that fights for a workers government. I have retained previous reposting comments, as a matter of course. Since we are in something of a hiatus, as this is posted after the Mississippi and prior to the Pennsylvania primary, in the frenzy of the current presidential campaign I think this is just the time to roll this commentary out again. It should be clear to even the most obtuse political observer that this mud-slinging contest for the Democratic presidential nomination, to speak nothing of the mutterings of the presumptive Republican nominee, totally obscures the pressing needs of working people that are once again going by the wayside. Needless to say the programmatic points listed here continue to retain all their validity. Shame on us though, for the need in 2008 to continue to raise point number one about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Repost Spring 2007 comment

I originally planned to repost the commentary below in the summer of 2007. However, two trends have forced me to republish earlier than I planned. The first is the fact that the whole 2008 bourgeois electoral process has gone into warp speed. Yes, yes I know that thinking about electoral politics, or any politics, in the spring of 2007 is only for political junkies and other misbegotten types. I confess to that sin and some day I will turn myself into the appropriate 12-step program. Nevertheless the campaign season goes full throttle. Thus if we are to have any effect on the 2008 campaign on behalf of our fight for socialism we better get in harness now.

The second trend revolves around the periodic publication of, and commentary on, the not so startling, by now, fact that the wealth distribution gap between the very, very rich and the merely rich here in America and the rest of us has over the last few years once again become wider, the widest since the 1920’s. In response a number of political commentators, especially liberal commentators, have bemoaned this condition noting that part of the problem is the very real ‘class struggle’ by the rich and their minions to beat down wages and benefits. One of the better commentators on this subject the Boston Globe Op/Ed writer Robert Kuttner, who is almost always worth reading to gauge the pulse of the Eastern liberal part of the Democratic Party, recently placed the blame on the fight against unionization by the corporations and their political hangers-on. So far, no argument there.

Where we part company is over his exclusive and eternal strategy of relying on the political ‘goodwill’ of the ‘friends of labor’ in the Democratic Party to make capitalism fairer. He further argues that this is where labor has found its earlier successes. No, one thousand times no. Despite Kuttner’s obviously truncated reading (if at all) of labor history the way unions were organized, particularly in the 1930’s the heyday of militant action, usually meant hard-fought factory and street actions over and against those so-called ‘friends of labor’. This is the simply truth that we must get out and have independent militant labor candidates shout to the rooftops. LET OUR CAMPAIGN BEGIN.

A MODEST PROPOSAL-RECRUIT, RUN INDEPENDENT LABOR MILITANTS IN FOR THE 2008 ELECTIONS.

All “anti-parliamentarian”, “anti-state”, “non-political” anarchist or anarcho-syndicalist brothers and sisters need read no further. This writer does not want to sully the purity of your politics with the taint of parliamentary electoral politics. Although I might remind you, as we remember the period of the anniversary of the Spanish Civil War 1936-39, that your political forbears in Spain were more than willing to support the state and enter the government when they got the chance- the bourgeois state and the bourgeois government. But, we can fight that issue out later. We will, hopefully, see you latter on the barricades.

As for other militants- here is my modest proposal. Either recruit fellow labor militants or present yourselves as candidates to run for public office, especially for Congress, during the 2008 election cycle. Why? Even a quick glance at the news of the day is calculated to send the most hardened politico screaming into the night. The quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, immigration walls, flag-burning amendments, anti same-sex marriage amendments, the threat to separation of church state raised by those who would impose a fundamentalist Christian theocracy on the rest of us, and the attacks on the hard fought gains of the Enlightenment posed by bogus theories such as ‘intelligent design’. And that is just an average day. Therefore, this election cycle provides militants, at a time when the electorate is focused on politics, a forum to raise our program and our ideas. We use this as a tool, like leaflets, petitions, meetings, demonstrations, etc. to get our message across. Why should the Donkeys, Elephants, and Greens have a monopoly on the public square?

I mentioned in the last paragraph the idea of program. Let us face it if we do not have a program to run on then it makes no sense for militants to run for public office. Given the political climate our task at this time is to fight an exemplary propaganda campaign. Our program is our banner in that fight. The Democrats and Republicans DO NOT RUN on a program. The sum of their campaigns is to promise not to steal from the public treasury (or at least not too much), beat their husbands or wives or grossly compromise themselves in any manner. On second thought, given today’s political climate, they may not promise not to beat their husbands or wives. You, however, get the point. Damn, even the weakest neophyte labor militant can make a better presentation before working people that that. In any case, this writer presents a five-point program that labor militants can run on (you knew this was coming, right?). As point five makes clear this is not a ‘minimum’ program but a program based on our need to fight for power.

1. FIGHT FOR THE IMMEDIATE AND UNCONDITIONAL WITHDRAWAL OF U.S. TROOPS FROM THE MIDDLE EAST NOW! U.S. HANDS OFF THE WORLD! VOTE NO ON THE WAR BUDGET! The quagmire in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East (Palestine, Iran) is the fault line of American politics today. Every bourgeois politician has to have his or her feet put to the fire on this one. Not on some flimsy ‘sense of the Congress’ softball motion for withdrawal next, year, in two years, or (my favorite) when the situation is stable. Moreover, on the parliamentary level the only real vote that matters is the vote on the war budget. All the rest is fluff. Militants should make a point of trying to enter Congressional contests where there are so-called anti-war Democrats or Republicans (an oxymoron, I believe) running, who nevertheless have voted with both feet for the war budgets, to make that programmatic contrast vivid.

But, one might argue, that would split the ‘progressive’ forces. Grow up, please! That argument has grown stale since it was first put forth in the ‘popular front’ days of the 1930’s. If you want to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fight for this position on the war budget. Otherwise the same people (ya, those progressive Democrats) who, in the end, voted for the last war budget get a free ride on the cheap. By rights this is our issue. Let us take it back.

2. FIGHT FOR A LIVING WAGE AND WORKING CONDITIONS-UNIVERSAL FREE HEALTH CARE FOR ALL. It is a ‘no-brainer’ that no individual, much less families, can live on the minimum wage of $5/hr. (or proposed $7/hr). What planet do these politicians live on? We need an immediate fight for a living wage, full employment and decent working conditions. We need universal free health care for all. End of story. The organized labor movement must get off its knees and fight to organize Wal-Mart and the South. A boycott of Wal-Mart is not enough. A successful organizing drive will, like in the 1930’s, go a long way to turning the conditions of labor around.

3. FIGHT THE ATTACKS ON THE ENLIGHTENMENT. Down with the Death Penalty! Full Citizenship Rights for all immigrants who make it here! Stop the Deportations! For the Separation of Church and State! Defend Abortion Rights! Down with ant-same sex marriage legislation! Full public funding of education! Stop the ‘war on drugs’, basically a war on blacks and minority youth-decriminalize drugs! Defend political prisoners! This list of demands hardly exhausts the “culture war” issues we defend. It is hard to believe that in the year 2008, over 200 years after the American and French Revolutions we are fighting desperately to preserve many of the same principles that militants fought for in those revolutions. But, so be it.

4. FIGHT FOR A WORKERS PARTY. The Donkeys, Elephants and Greens have had their chance. Now is the time to fight for our own party and for the interests of our own class, the working class. Any campaigns by independent labor militants must highlight this point. And any campaigns can also become the nucleus of a workers party network until we get strong enough to form at least a small party. None of these other parties, and I mean none, are working in the interests of working people and their allies. The following slogan, which codifies that great lesson of politics today, must be hammered home. Break with the Democrats, Republicans and Greens!

5. FIGHT FOR A WORKERS AND XYZ GOVERNMENT. THIS IS THE DEMAND THAT SEPARATES THE MILITANTS FROM THE FAINT-HEARTED REFORMISTS. We need our own form of government. In the old days the bourgeois republic was a progressive form of government. Not so any more. That form of government ran out of steam about one hundred years ago. We need a Workers Republic. We need a government based on workers councils with a ministry (I do not dare say commissariat in case any stray anarchists are still reading this) responsible to it. Let us face it if we really want to get any of the good and necessary things listed above accomplished we are not going to get it with the current form of government.

Why the XYZ part? What does that mean? No, it is not part of an algebra lesson. What it reflects is that while society is made up mainly of workers (of one sort or another) there are other classes (and parts of classes) in society that we seek as allies and could benefit from a workers government. Examples- small independent contractors, intellectuals, the dwindling number of small farmers, and some professionals like dentists. Ya, I like the idea of a workers and dentists government. Given my dental history I would fight on the last barricade for that government. The point is you have got to fight for it.

Obviously any campaign based on this program will be an exemplary propaganda campaign for the foreseeable future. But we have to start now. Continuing to support or not challenging the bourgeois parties does us no good now. That is for sure. While bourgeois electoral laws do not favor independent candidacies at this late date write-in campaigns are possible. ROLL UP YOUR SHEAVES! GET THOSE PETITIONS SIGNED! PRINT OUT THE LEAFLETS! PAINT THOSE BANNERS! GET READY TO SHAKE HANDS AND KISS BABIES.


THIS IS PART OF A SERIES OF ARTICLES ON THE 2006-2008 ELECTION CYCLE UNDER THE HEADLINE- FORGET THE DONKEYS, ELEPHANTS, GREENS-BUILD A WORKERS PARTY!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Jack and Abby-America's First Politcal Power Couple

Click on title to link to a "The Boston Sunday Globe" book review of a biography of Abigail Adams by Woody Holton.

DVD REVIEW

March is Women’s History Month

John and Abigail Adams: An American Experience, PBS, 2006


Over the past twenty years or so there have been various attempts by historians of the period to reshuffle and expand the pantheon of the American Revolution. These efforts have included highlighting lesser male personalities like financier Robert Morris, paying attention to the role of the Founding Mothers and a deeper look into the plebeian base of that revolution. Those efforts have also, most prominently of late, included reordering the place that John Adams, an acknowledged early revolutionary leader and second President of the United States, in that pantheon. Leading this charge has been David McCullough’s (one of the inevitable ‘talking heads’ in this docudrama) best-selling book and now this PBS film. Brother Adams (and Sister Abigail) have arrived.

I will confess here, as I have previously in this space, that I am something of a ‘homer’ on the Adams family. I was born in their hometown of Quincy, Massachusetts and so imbibed the spirit of the place and their effect on it from early youth with visits to their homes and tombs. Some of my first political readings in elementary school were biographies of various members of the family (Which may explain quite a bit, right?).

I never, however, at that time, or later, saw them as central to the revolutionary experience. Washington, Samuel Adams (a cousin), the Sons of Liberty and, above all, Tom Paine fired my imagination. To be kind, as I have also mentioned before in this space, I had characterized John Adams as a ‘conservative revolutionary’ (an oxymoron, to be sure) and nothing in this documentary has changed my opinion on that matter. John Adams represented (except in his early firebrand pre-revolutionary period) individually and later through his ‘party’, the Federalists, the closest approximation to what Lafayette represented in the French revolution- the idea of rule by a small-entrenched elite over the ‘mob’-the so-called Republic of Virtue.

This documentary, although something of a valentine to John and Abigail, does not hide this fact but rather downplays it by highlighting other aspects of a rather long political career. The chronology presents Adams as the pre-revolutionary firebrand, the supreme political operative of the Continental Congresses, the diplomatic emissary to various European countries during the war including invaluable service in getting funds from the Dutch, the gentleman farmer chafing at the bit in political slow times, the formative role as first Vice President, the stormy one term as a beleaguered president, the love- hate relationship with his arch political opponent Jefferson and threaded throughout this career his strong dependence on Abigail as wife, mother, political confidante and ‘soul mate’. For those who thought that political power couples only started with Bill and Hillary this will be a surprise. Frankly, what this documentary has done for me is to reinforce my elementary school-derived high opinion of Abigail. As for the closet (and at times not so closet) Tory John I will let David McCullough argue his case.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

*The 160th Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto-Foundation Document of Modern Communism

Click on title to link to the Karl Marx Internet Archive's copy of "The Communist Manifesto".

This year is the 160th Anniversary of the publication of the Communist League's Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx in 1848, a document that has played a central role in world history since then, if not always happily. Below is a review of this document that I wrote in 2006 and proudly stand by today. Additionally, I will post Leon Trotsky’s article on the 90th Anniversary of the Manifesto in 1938 from the Trotsky Internet Archive. What unites the two pieces is the thought that we both share that the Manifesto read for Trotsky and reads today like it could have been written about conditions in either of these periods. Forward.

THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO-THE CREATION OF MODERN COMMUNISM

BOOK REVIEW

THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, KARL MARX AND FRIEDRICH ENGELS, PENGUIN CLASSICS: NEW EDITIONS, NEW YORK, 2002


If you are a revolutionary, a radical or merely a liberal activist you must come to terms with the theory outlined in the Communist Manifesto. Today’s political activists are obviously not the first to face this challenge. Radicals, revolutionaries and liberals have had to come to terms with the Manifesto at least since 1848, when it was first published. That same necessity; perhaps surprisingly to some given the changes in the political landscape since then, is true today. Why surprisingly? On the face of it, given the political times, it would appear somewhat absurd to make such a claim about the necessity of coming to terms with the overriding need for the revolutionary overturn of the capitalist order outlined in the Manifesto. It, however, is necessary.

With the collapses of the Soviet Union and the Soviet-influenced Eastern European states about fifteen years ago, which were supposedly based on Marxist concepts, one would think that Marxism was a dead letter. But hear me out. Even the less far-sighted apologists for the international capitalist order are now worrying about the increasing gap between rich and poor, not only between the so-called first and third worlds but also within the imperial metropolitan centers themselves. Nowhere is that more evident that in the United States where that gap has dramatically increased over the last thirty years. Thus, despite the carping of the ‘death of communism’ theorists after the decisive capitulation of international Stalinism in the early 1990’s, an objective criterion exists today to put the question posed by the ongoing class struggle and of the validity of a materialist concept of history back on the front burner.

Whether one agrees with the Marxian premises about the need for revolution and for a dialectical materialist conception of the workings of society or not one still must, if for no other reason that to be smart about the doings of the world, confront the problem of how to break the stalemate over where human history is heading. 'Globalization' has clearly demonstrated only that the 'race to the bottom' inherent in the inner workings of capitalism is continuing at full throttle. Moreover, the contradictions and boom/bust cycles of capitalism have not been resolved. And those results have not been pretty for the peoples of the world.

Experience over the last 160 years has shown that those who are not armed with a materialist concept of history, that is, the ability to see society in all its workings and contradictions, cannot understand the world. All other conceptual frameworks lead to subjectivist idealism and utopian concepts of social change, at best. One may ultimately answer the questions posed by the Manifesto in the negative but the alternatives leave one politically defenseless in the current one-sided international class war.

So what is the shouting over Marxism, pro and con, all about? In the middle of the 19th century, especially in Europe, it was not at all clear where the vast expansion and acceleration of industrial society was heading. All one could observe was that traditional society was being rapidly disrupted and people were being uprooted, mainly from the land, far faster than at any time in previous history. For the most part, political people at that time reacted to the rise of capitalism with small plans to create utopian societies off on the side of society or with plans to smash the industrial machinery in order to maintain an artisan culture (the various forms of Ludditism). Into this chaos a young Karl Marx stepped in, and along with his associate and co-thinker Friedrich Engel, gave a, let us face it, grandiose plan for changing all of society based on the revolutionary overthrow of existing society.

Marx thus did not based himself on creation of some isolated utopian community but rather took the then current level of international capitalist society as a starting point and expanded his thesis from that base. Now that was then, and today still is, a radical notion. Marx, however, did not just come to those conclusions out of the blue. As an intellectual (and frustrated academician) he took the best of German philosophy (basically from Hegel, then the rage of German philosophical academia), French political thought and revolutionary tradition especially the Great French Revolution of the late 1700’and English political economy.

In short, Marx took the various strands of Enlightenment thought and action and grafted those developments onto a theory, not fully formed at the time, of how the proletariat was to arise and take over the reins of society for the benefit of all of society and end class struggle as the motor force of history. Unfortunately, given the rocky road of socialist thought and action over the last 160 years, we are, impatiently, still waiting for that new day.

In recently re-reading the Manifesto this writer was struck by how much of the material in it related, taking into account the technological changes and advances in international capitalist development since 1848, to today’s political crisis of humankind. Some of the predictions and some of the theory are off, no question, particularly on the questions of the relative staying power of capitalism, the relative impoverishment of the masses, the power of the nation-state and nationalism to cut across international working class solidarity and the telescoping of the time frame of capitalist development but the thrust of the material presented clearly speaks to us today. Maybe that is why today the more far-sighted bourgeois commentators are nervous at the reappearance of Marxism in Western society as a small but serious current in the international labor movement. Militant leftists can now argue- Stalinism (the horrendous distortion of Marxism) never again, to the bourgeois commentators' slogan of - socialist revolution, never again.

As a historical document one should read the Manifesto with the need for updating in mind. The reader should nevertheless note the currency of the seemingly archaic third section of the document where Marx polemicized against the leftist political opponents of his time. While the names of the organizations of that time have faded away into the historical mist the political tendencies he argued against seem to very much analogous to various tendencies today. In fact, in my youth I probably argued in favor of every one of those tendencies that Marx opposed before I was finally won over to the Marxian worldview. I suggest that not only does humankind set itself the social tasks that it can reasonably perform but also that when those tasks are not performed there is a tendency to revert to earlier, seemingly defeated ideas, of social change. Thus the resurgent old pre-Marxian conceptions of societal change have to be fought out again by this generation of militant leftists. That said, militant leftists should read and reread this document. It is literally the foundation document of the modern communist movement. One can still learn much from it. Forward.

Revised September 26, 2006




*Writer's Corner- When Baseball Was The National Pastime- The Stories Of Ring Lardner

Click on title to link to "Wikipedia's" entry for the great short story writer, Ring Lardner.

BOOK REVIEW

Ring Around the Bases: The Complete Baseball Stories of Ring Lardner, University of South Carolina Press, 1992



Well, the boys of summer are already stretching themselves out down at the various training camps in order to get ready for yet another baseball season. I no longer have the intense interest in baseball that I had when I was a kid I still like to read old Ring Lardner’s stories from the time when baseball was literally the national pastime, although like today not without its scandals, escapades and nutty characters. Of course, being from Boston I might just have to note in passing that our boys of summer, the beloved Red Sox of fabled Fenway Park (how is that for a Grantland Rice-like sports phrase?), are the reigning WORLD CHAMPIONS. Come and get us, if you can. In the meantime I suggest the above-titled book for you baseball-starved fans.

This volume contains virtually every important baseball story that Ring Lardner wrote, except the central character in the You Know Me, Al series Jack Keefe's wartime service and baseball world tour stories. As we approach another baseball season it is nice to look back to a 'simpler' time in the saga of baseball in this country. Savor these stories. Perhaps read them on one or more of those long winter evenings or in the interval between 'hot stove' league discussions.

At one time early in the first part of the 20th century there was no question that baseball was the American pastime. That was a time when the name Ring Lardner was well known in sports writing and literary circles. The sports writing part was easy because that was his beat. The literary part is much harder to recognize but clearly the character of Jack Keefe has become an American classic. Other stories here have also provided exemplars of the type like Hurry Kane, Alibi Ike, Harmony, What’s That Noise? and so on.

Does one need to be a baseball fan to appreciate this work? Hell, no. We all know, in sports or otherwise, this guy Keefe (and the various characters in the other stories who mimic his type). Right? You know the guy (or gal) with some talent who nevertheless has no problem blaming the other guy for mistakes while he (or she) is pure as the driven snow. That is the concept that drives the You Know Me, Al stories told in the form of letters to Al, his buddy back home in the sticks. That format applies as well to the other stories.

The language, the malapropisms and the schemes used by Lardner all evoke an earlier more innocent time in sport and society. I do not believe that you could create such characters now based on today's sport's ethic. Such innocent antics would just not ring true. The athletes would have a spokesperson `spinning' their take on the matters of the day. The only character that might have come close is Nuke LaRouche in the movie Bull Durham but as that movie progressed Nuke was getting `wise'. Read these stories. More than once.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Scottsboro Boys-American Travesty

DVD REVIEW

The Scottsboro Boys: American Tragedy, PBS, 2001


Those familiar with the radical movement know that at least once in every generation a political criminal case comes up that defines that era. One thinks of the Haymarket Martyrs in the late 19th century; Sacco and Vanzetti, probably the most famous case of all, in the 1920’s; the Rosenburgs in the post-World War II 1950's Cold War period and today Mumia Abu-Jamal. Here we look at the case of the Scottsboro Boys in the 1930’s. The exposure of the tensions within American society, particularly around the intersection of race and sex, which came to the surface as a result of that case is the subject of the documentary under review.

In a certain sense this is another one of those liberal do-gooder films that the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) is known for. That is indicated in the title of the work-an American tragedy. The underlying premise is that the fate of the Boys, ugly in many aspects by the standards of that time and certainly by today’s standards, was now merely a long past singular aberration of the American justice system that eventually got righted. Tell that to the vast black and Hispanic majority of today’s victims of that same ‘justice’ system languishing in America’s prison’s in the overwrought ‘war on drugs’. Tell that to the kids down in Jena, Louisiana. But that is a story for another time.

What the PBS film does here is highlight the various legal trials and tribulations, over many years, which most of the nine Scottsboro defendants faced including four trials, many appeals and, ultimately for the lone survivor who lived long enough, a pardon. All for crimes that they did not commit and that the state of Alabama knew that they did not commit. For those unfamiliar with the case this chronology is a nice primer on the key aspects of the case. But it should make one think more about how the lives of the Scottsboro Boys were really saved.

Although the documentary tips its hat, somewhat begrudgingly, to the titanic efforts of the American Communist Party in 1931 to make the case internationally known, and gain a hearing from blacks on other social and economic issues as well, that tendency to highlight the legal side of the battle plays the filmmakers false here. There would have been no cause celebre without the communists, although the fate of the feisty New York Jewish lawyer who handled most of the stages of the case and holds center stage here is certainly of interest. As is the question of plebian anti-Semitism as a proper subject for study in its own right.

The vaunted NAACP, nominally the legal voice of the black community, did not want to touch the case because it involved accusations of interracial sex and would have wrecked havoc with their liberal base. I will argue here that without the dreaded communists to stay the state of Alabama’s hand the boys would have long before been executed –or been hanging from the nearest poles.

I might also mention that the American Communist Party was acting under the Communist International’s direction. On the black question in America that meant support for the slogan of national self-determination for blacks in the South (the actual configuration for that is rather weird by- black majority counties). That slogan played a propaganda role in the background for holiday occasions during this period, called the ‘third period’ in communist parlance, but the heart of communist work in the early 1930’s were in struggles over wage equality, saving jobs, evictions, unemployed work, the fight against lynch law in the South and labor and black defense work.

For most of my adult political life I have been an anti-Stalinist leftist but for their Scottsboro Boys defense-all honor to the party and its legal arm the International Labor Defense. As pointed out above this documentary is a good primer on the case but one should Google for books on the case. Then, I hope, you will be able to agree that this case was not merely an American tragedy but a travesty.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Musings on Presidential Campaign 2008

Commentary

Recently I received a communication from a reader asking why, it seemed to her, that lately I have been offering less analysis of the bourgeois presidential elections and doing more book reviews, etc. on obscure subjects like the influence of Quakers, the Second Awakening and women in the rise of American capitalism. Or off the wall commentaries on such frivolous matter as the Iraq war budget, troops withdrawal and the economy.

Interestingly, that comment dovetailed with a trend that I also have observed as I have gone back and edited or reflected on some older material that I have written in this space. Starting shortly before the midterm Congressional campaigns I seriously ratcheted up my commentary in this space under the general theme of breaking with the Democrats, Republicans and Greens. That intensity, more or less, held up until a couple of months ago when I realized that spending time on what is essentially the technical aspects of presidential electoral campaigns, the reason for existence for my political opponents, was not worth the time. Moreover, it was getting repetitive and boring. The time since then has only confirmed that piece of personal wisdom on my part as the current Clinton/Obama smear campaigns against each other has clearly demonstrated.

Do not get me wrong. In my youth this kind of presidential contest would have been like catnip to me, complete with graphs and charts all over the place following the delegate curve. And as late as Hubert Humphrey’s ill-fated presidential of 1968 I would have been up to my elbows in the day-to-day whirlwind of the campaign itself as a participant. But, my friends, these technical trips, and that are what campaigns like this ultimately come down to, prevent one from seeing the forest for the trees. The fight against the Iraq War, the death penalty, saving abortion rights, the struggle against foreclosures and other economic harms are only palely, very palely reflected in these free-for-alls.

As I have repeatedly pointed out before in this space, I see the wind that Obama has stirred up among the youth of all races and others who had previously lost their political compasses as eventually a positive sign for those of us outside and to the left of the Democratic Party. That, however, is only of secondary benefit now to those of us who look through the prism of socialism. I made someone laugh one time when I said our perspective ultimately is - After Obama, Us. My friends, at that time, you will see me making commentaries on politics until the cows come home. Enough said.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

***What Made Capitalism Tick?


BOOK REVIEW

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Max Weber, Unwin Paperbacks, London, 1985


In my youth I used to believe that Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was the very last word in understanding, sociologically, the driving force behind capitalism in its prime. His premise, at least his expressed narrowly- defined one, that out of the mishmash of feudalism a ‘new’ man and a ‘new’ woman were being created who could subordinate their temporal desires enough to begin the tedious process of primitive capitalist accumulation that got the whole mode started, hit home hard to my young mind. Of course, that was not my conscious take on it at the time, although parts of it certainly were. What interested me the most was that Weber was using some examples that were close to home, the Massachusetts Bay Colony experiment, and, being from Boston and steeped in Puritan history, that is why I was glad to get a copy of the work.

Strangely, in recently re-reading the work I found that I was drawn by those same examples. Additionally, I was drawn by the huge set of footnotes at the end that I did not remember going through in my youth but offer some very interesting insights into how Weber put his argument together and the sources that he had available at the time and that he used. The re-reading poses this question, though. How does the work itself hold up?

Of course today my class struggle perspective derived from a Marxist world view notes that Weber is clearly a political opponent. Not so much for his argument, which actually has a certain merit, but for his tenacious desire to use a quasi-Marxism materialist approach to sociology without drawing those requisite class struggle conclusions. I might add that the class struggle was fully raging in Germany at the time of the publication of this work as the Social Democratic Party was becoming the voice of the German working class. Weber, thus, really needed to keep his blinders on. Moreover, as a work of scholarship, which I will grant it certainly is, it is an early effort in the very long struggle to divorce sociological observations from any practical use. A militant today in order to benefit from reading this work has to do the equivalent of suspending disbelieve in the plot of a novel to realize that it is important to know what made capitalism tick in the old days and why we have to move on. Here, nevertheless is my very condensed take on the work today.

In some place in 16th and 17th century Europe, the scope of Weber’s study, individuals and small communities were breaking from the established churches, Roman Catholic and mainstream Protestant and creating, in some cases 'hit or miss', a culture that we today describe as secular but in the nature of those times had a religious connotation. That breakout, not without opposition and oppression by the constituted authorities, formed the nucleus of an ethic that made accumulation of wealth through hard work and thrift the norm-in short that private accumulation mentioned above. This, dear reader, was a historically progressive series of actions. In the year 2007 those traits have long since failed to be progressive. What is necessary, as Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and even someone like Che Guevara recognized is in the interest of social solidarity we need to create ‘the new socialist man and woman’ out of the muck and mire of capitalism. Hell, we need our own version of the Protestant ethic-and if current worldwide economic conditions are any judge- we need it pronto. Read this one at your leisure.What Made Capitalism Tick?

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

*From The Archives Of "Women And Revolution"-Black Freedom, Women's Rights and the Civil War

Click on the headline to link to a "Wikipedia" entry for black abolitionist Sojourner Truth.

Markin comment:

The following is an article from the Spring 1989 issue of "Women and Revolution" that may have some historical interest for old "new leftists", perhaps, and well as for younger militants interested in various cultural and social questions that intersect the class struggle. Or for those just interested in a Marxist position on a series of social questions that are thrust upon us by the vagaries of bourgeois society. I will be posting more such articles from the back issues of "Women and Revolution" during Women's History Month and periodically throughout the year.

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Black Freedom, Women's Rights
and the Civil War

This article is based on a talk given by W&R associate editor Amy Rath at a public forum held 5 April 1988 at Howard University. For additional historical material on women in the anti-slavery struggle, see "The Grimke Sisters: Pioneers for Abolition and Women's Rights" (W&R No. 29, Spring 1985) and "Harriet Tubman: Fighter for Black Freedom" (W&R No. 32, Winter 1986).

The talk discusses the movement for women's rights in the U.S. prior to the Civil War, its link through the radical abolition movement with the fight against black slavery, and the destruction of that link to produce the antecedents of the present "feminists." It centers on the ideology of the antebellum abolitionists, the most far-sighted of whom saw that all democratic struggles were vitally linked and that deeply revolutionary changes would be required to establish equality. These men and women were not Marxists but bourgeois radicals of their time; for many, the primary political motivation was religion.

Northern anti-slavery activists espoused "free labor" and accepted the idea that if legal barriers to equality were removed, the American dream would be possible for anyone, given talent and hard work. In antebellum America, in the context of steady immigration and an expanding frontier, a propertyless farmhand could perhaps acquire land of his own, while a (white) laborer might look to becoming a small-scale employer of labor in a generation. But if the "free labor" ideology imagined a democratic political system of economic equals based on a society of skilled artisans and yeoman farmers, this model rapidly became a fiction. A capitalist class of Northern industrial, finance and railroad capitalists had the ascendancy. Though still a predominantly agricultural country, America was the fastest-growing industrial power (with the second-highest industrial output, after Britain). America was already the world's technological leader, very much feared as a competitor by Britain, birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

The slave society of the South existed in the framework of a powerful Northern industrial sector which purchased staple crops from the South, first of all cotton. The rich plantations which possessed the South's best land and dominated the region politically were built on a pre-capitalist class relationship of black chattel slavery; at the same time they were part of a money economy in the world's most dynamic capitalist country. The conflict of social systems between the ever more powerful North and the backward South was a profound contradiction heading for collision, exacerbated by America's undemocratic "states' rights" political system which had given the South disproportionate control of the national government (especially the presidency and Supreme Court) since Independence.

The Progressive Bourgeoisie and the Limits of Reconstruction


The "irrepressible conflict" exploded in the Civil War, in the course of which Lincoln, the Northern bourgeoisie's ablest political leader, found himself obliged to go much further than he had intended in the direction of adopting the emancipation program of the abolitionists. Fifteen years before, abolitionists had been viewed as an isolated, if noisy, crew of radical fanatics.
The Civil War smashed slavery and left behind in the South a chaotic situation and four million ex-slaves who had been promised "freedom." But the war and its aftermath underlined that a truly egalitarian radical vision of social reconstruction already could not be promoted by a capitalist ruling class.

In her talk, comrade Rath emphasized the birth of a "feminist" women's movement as a rightward split at a crucial moment in American history: the era of "Reconstruction." Reconstruction posed a possibility of socially revolutionary transformations in the South: the regional ruling class, based on the ownership of land and slaves, had been militarily defeated; under the occupying Northern power, political rights were exercised by the former slaves and those willing to be allied with them.

Reconstruction brought not only black enfranchisement but significant democratic reforms: the 1868 South Carolina constitutional convention drafted the state's first divorce law, while Reconstruction legislatures established the South's first public schools and went to work on liberalizing the South's draconian penal codes and reforming the planters' property tax system (which had taxed the farmer's mule and the workman's tools while all but exempting the real wealth—land). But the Northern capitalists betrayed the promise of Reconstruction, allowing it to be physically smashed by forces such as the Ku Klux Klan, even though that meant the destruction of the Republican Party in the South.

Replacing slavery, a new system of racial subordination took shape: a refurbished system of labor discipline through such measures as one-year labor contracts and "vagrancy" laws to bind ex-slaves to the plantations, and a rigid system of Jim Crow segregation. The defeat of Reconstruction shaped the postwar South into modern times: the sharecropping, the poll taxes, convict labor (the chain gang), the "separate but equal" unequal facilities.
While the woman suffrage leaders described in comrade Rath's talk took a stand against the great democratic gains that hung in the balance, many women mobilized by the anti-slavery movement served honorably in Reconstruction, for example as freedmen's schoolteachers who risked their lives to participate in freeing black people from the chains of bondage.

During Reconstruction, debate raged over the agrarian question: the radical demand raised by the freed-men and destitute white Unionist Southerners that the secessionists' estates be confiscated and distributed to them. Some abolitionists saw that racial democracy could not be achieved if a class of whites continued to own the land where a class of blacks were laborers. They argued for justice to those who had been slaves (who created the wealth of the plantations, beginning by clearing the wilderness).

But the tide had turned: the triumphant Northern rulers would not permit such an attack on "property rights" (especially as Northerners directly and Northern banks were coming to own a good deal of Southern property). Fundamentally, the federal power reinvested political power in the hands of the former "best people" of the old Confederacy. In the sequel, intensive exploitation of black agricultural labor, rather than industrial development or capital investment in the modernization of agriculture, remained the basis of the Southern economy.
What was the alternative? Working-class power was shown by the 1848 and 1871 upheavals in Europe to be the alternative to bourgeois rule, as Marx and Engels explained from the Communist Manifesto onward, but conditions were not mature even in Europe for the small proletariat to seize and wield state power. In mid-19th century America, the Northern bourgeoisie under the pressure of a revolutionary Civil War possessed a genuinely progressive side, the basis for the abolitionists' support for the Republican Party. The abolitionists' great debates revolved around how far out in front of the progressive bourgeoisie they should be. There were "radicals" and those with a more "realistic" appraisal of what the Republican Party would support. Today, more than a century after Reconstruction, that debate is transcended. The ruling class long since passed firmly over to the side of reaction; the federal government is no defender of the oppressed. Those who look to find support for an egalitarian program in any wing of the ruling class are doomed to disappointment. To complete the unfinished democratic tasks of the bourgeois revolution is a responsibility of the modern working class.

When the post-Civil War suffragettes chose to focus on the narrowest political rights for middle-class women and turn their backs on the rights and survival of the most desperately oppressed, they prefigured all of today's "constituency" and "reform" politics which refuse to attack the profound class inequalities ingrained in capitalist society. Sojourner Truth's classic "Ain't I a Woman" speech (see below) today stands as a powerful indictment of these ladies as much as of the outright sexists she was debating. Those who renounce the revolutionary content of the demand for women's liberation so as to advance their schemes for election of female politicians or advancement of women in academia are direct descendants of those first "feminists" who refused to challenge the power structure of their time on behalf of justice for two million of their sisters who were freed slaves.

But there is another women's movement: the women who have joined in the front ranks of every revolutionary struggle on this planet, from the 19th-century radical abolitionists to the women workers who sparked the Russian Revolution to the communist women of today. When the October Revolution of 1917 smashed the old tsarist society in Russia, militant women were among the first recruits to communism in dozens of countries where women were oppressed by semi-feudal conditions and "customs." Young women radicalized around questions like women's education, the veil, wife-beating, religious obscurantism, arranged marriages, etc., recognized a road forward to uprooting social reaction and building a society freed from sexual, racial and class inequality. Our heroes are the revolutionary women who have shared in making all of revolutionary history, from the first moment that slaves rose up against the Roman Empire to the great struggles of today.

It was 1863, and the bloodiest war ever fought by the U.S. was raging. Abraham Lincoln had finally realized he must pronounce the destruction of slavery as the North's goal in this civil war. On 22 September 1862, his preliminary Emancipation Proclamation declared that on the first of January, 1863, all slaves in the Confederacy "shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free." Although the Emancipation Proclamation did not free the slaves in the border states loyal to the Union, it turned the tide of battle. The war was now indisputably a war to end slavery, not simply to repair the Union. Soon thereafter, the government began to enlist blacks into the army; these ex-slaves and sons of ex-slaves tipped the military balance in favor of the Union. It was a matter of time until black soldiers singing "John Brown's Body" marched into Charleston, South Carolina—the "soul of secession," as Karl Marx called it-after Sherman's march through Georgia to the sea.

In May of the revolutionary year 1863, the first convention of the Women's Loyal National League met in New York City. Its most eminent speaker was a woman whose name is little known today: Angelina Grimke" Weld. As part of her address she gave a keen analysis of the war:

"This war is not, as the South falsely pretends, a war of races, nor of sections, nor of political parties, but a war of Principles; a war upon the working classes, whether
white or black; a war against Man, the world over. In this war, the black man was the first victim, the workingman of whatever color the next; and now all who contend for the rights of labor, for free speech, free schools, free suffrage, and a free government...are
driven to do battle in defense of these or to fall with them, victims of the same violence that for two centuries has held the black man a prisoner of war "The nation is in a death-struggle. It must either become one vast slaveocracy of petty tyrants, or wholly the land of the free."

—Gerda Lerner, The Grimke Sisters from South Carolina

A resolution was presented: "There can never be a true peace in this Republic until the civil and political rights of all citizens of African descent and all women are practically established." Angelina Grimke' defended it against those who thought it too radical:
"I rejoice exceedingly that that resolution would combine us with the negro. I feel that we have been with him— True, we have not felt the slaveholder's lash; true, we have not had our hands manacled, but our hearts have been crushed I want to be identified with the negro; until he gets his rights, we shall never have ours."

It was only after the Civil War that an ideology arose which was later named "feminism": the idea that the main division in society is sex. In response to the debate over the role of the newly freed slaves in U.S. society, the leaders of the woman suffrage movement—Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—sided with the counterrevolutionary assault on Reconstruction. The birth of bourgeois feminism was part of a right-wing process which shattered the vision of the left wing of the revolutionary democracy into separate, feeble bourgeois reform movements.

The Second American Revolution

The Civil War was one of the great social revolutions in the history of the world, destroying the slaveholding class in the South and freeing the black slaves. Not only Marxists saw that. The best fighters of the day—the Grimke sisters, the great black abolitionist Frederick Douglass, the Radical Republican Congressman Thaddeus Stevens—knew that the war would have to become a revolution against slavery before the North could win. They hated the feudalistic society of the South, with its degraded slaves, its cruelty, its arrogant, leisurely gentlemen planters, its impoverished rural whites, its lack of education, industry and general culture. The radical abolitionists wanted to wipe away that society, and also saw much wrong in the North, such as the subservience of women, and legal and social discrimination against blacks. Their ideology was to create a new order based on free labor and "equality before the law," a concept brought to the U.S. by the Radical Republican Charles Sumner out of his study of the 1789 French Revolution.

In Europe after the French Revolution the status of women was the most visible expression of the contradiction between capitalist society and its own ideals. But in the U.S. that was not so true, because of chattel slavery. The United States—the first country to proclaim itself a democratic republic—was the largest slaveholding country in the world, a huge historical contradiction which had to be resolved.

The Industrial Revolution

It was the Industrial Revolution, fundamentally, that generated what William Seward called the "Irrepressible Conflict." In broad historical terms the Industrial Revolution had created the material conditions for the elimination of slavery in society. Technological and social advances made possible a much more productive capitalist agriculture and industry. In 1854 the abolitionist clergyman Theodore Parker described slavery as "the foe to Northern Industry—to our mines, our manufactures, and our commerce...to our democratic politics in the State, our democratic culture in the school, our democratic work in the community" (quoted in James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom).

The Industrial Revolution had a contradictory effect on the condition of women. Production of goods had been primarily through cottage industry, but with the invention of the spinning jenny, the power loom and the steam engine, cottage industry was ended. The men left home to go to the factory, while women stayed home to do the housework, raise the children and to buy at the local store what once they had made at home.

Women's labor ceased to be productive labor in the strict Marxist sense. This is the material basis for the 19th-century ideology of the "women's sphere." While the material advances of the Industrial Revolution made life easier for women, it also locked them into the stifling confines of domesticity in the isolated nuclear family. Women also worked in factories, but even in the industries in which they were concentrated (in textile production they made up two-thirds of the labor force) generally they worked only for a few years before getting married.

The Fight for Women's Legal Rights

Slaves were a class, but women are a specially oppressed group dispersed through all social classes. Although all women were oppressed to some extent because of their position in the family, the class differences were fundamental between the black slave woman and the slave plantation mistress, or the Northern German-speaking laundress and the wife of the owner of the Pennsylvania iron mill. "Sisterhood" was as much a myth then as it is now. Women identified first with the class to which they belonged, determined by who their husbands or fathers were.

Before the Civil War, women were basically without any civil rights. They couldn't sue or be sued, they couldn't be on juries, all their property and earnings went to their husband or father. Although women did have the vote for a few years in New Jersey and Virginia after the American Revolution, this advance was quickly eliminated. (This was part of a general right-wing turn after the Revolution, when suffrage was restricted gradually through property qualifications. In New York State, for example, with some restrictions blacks could vote up to about 1821.) For the wealthy upper-class woman, this lack of legal rights loomed as a terrible injustice because it prevented her from functioning as a full member of the ruling class (Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the mother of American feminism and the daughter of a judge, felt this keenly). For the working-class or slave woman, if her property legally belonged to her husband it didn't seem a problem— she didn't have any property.

Though the legal question was a small matter for poor and slave women, nevertheless legal injustice is not insignificant for Marxists, and it is bound up with multi-layered social oppression. This was true for the position of women in pre-Civil War society. Until the 1850s wife-beating was legal in most states. Divorce was almost impossible, and when it was obtained children went with the husband. The accepted attitude toward women was assumption of their "inferiority," and the Bible was considered an authority. When anesthesia was discovered in the 1840s, doctors opposed its use for childbirth, because that suffering was women's punishment for Eve's sin.

The Anti-Slavery Struggle and Democratic Rights

But how were women to fight for equal rights in this society divided between slave and free? Angelina Grimke' was precisely correct when she said, "until the negro gets his rights, we will never have ours." It was necessary to destroy chattel slavery, which was retarding the development of the whole society. The movement for women's rights developed in the North out of the struggle to abolish slavery. It could hardly have developed in the South. In the decades before the war, in response to the growing Northern anti-slavery agitation, the South was becoming more reactionary than ever: more fanatical in defense of the ideology of slavery and more openly repressive. There were wholesale assaults on basic democratic rights, from attacks on the rights of the small layer of free blacks, who were seen as a source of agitation and insurrection, to a ban on the distribution of abolitionist literature.

In the South, there were no public schools. It was illegal to teach slaves to read, and almost half of the entire Southern population was illiterate. But in the North over 90 percent of the residents could read and write. Girls and boys went to school in about the same proportions, the only country in the world where this was true. So while in the North women teachers were paid less than men, and women factory hands received one-quarter the wage of men, in the South there were few teachers at all, and few industrial workers.

As a young slave in Maryland, and later while he was trying to earn a living as a refugee in New Bedford, Massachusetts, Frederick Douglass came to understand the common interests of all working people in the South, slaves and free blacks and whites. He learned a trade on the docks, where he experienced racist treatment from white workmen, who saw black labor as a threat to their jobs. But Douglass realized that the position of the workmen, too, against their boss was eroded and weakened by slavery and racism. As Marx said, "Labor cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded." And indeed, the working-class movement met with little success in the antebellum U.S., whereas after the war there was an upsurge in unionism and labor struggle.

The vanguard of the abolitionist movement—the radical insurrectionist wing—believed in the identity of the interests of all the oppressed. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the great activist of the Underground Railroad, and the Grimke sisters were all inspired by a vision of human equality based in revolutionary democracy. Although their egalitarian principle was based on a religious view and ours is based on a Marxist understanding of society, we honor their essential work in leading the anti-slavery struggle. The abolition of slavery did profoundly alter the United States, it did open the road to liberation by making possible the development of the proletariat and its revolutionary vanguard, which will establish justice by abolishing the exploitation of man by man.

The Grimke Sisters of South Carolina

Penetrating insights into the situation of women in pre-Civil War America came from women who were committed abolitionists. Sarah and Angelina Grimke are examples, as is Sojourner Truth who is better known today. The Grimke sisters were unusual members of the ruling class who defected to the other side. As daughters of one of South Carolina's most powerful slave-holding families, they had grown up in luxury, but left the South because of their revulsion for slavery. The Grimke sisters became famous in 1837-1838 as agents of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The power of their personal witness of the atrocities of the slave system drew huge audiences. The sisters were quick to point out that as upper-class white women, they had seen only the "better" treatment of the house and city slaves, and not the more brutal treatment of plantation hands in the fields. But one of the things they did know about was the sexual exploitation of women slaves and the brutal breakup of black families through the slave trade.

Because the sisters addressed the issues of sexual exploitation frankly and often, it was one of the issues the opposition used to try to shut them up. The clergy complained that the Grimke's brought up a subject "which ought not to be named"—how dare these delicate .blossoms of Southern womanhood talk about sex! The very idea of women speaking publicly represented an attack on the proper relationship between the sexes and would upset "women's place" in the home. Contemporary observers were shocked by the sight of women participating actively in the debates of the anti-slavery movement, as they did especially in New England, the birthplace of radical abolitionism. The Grimkes replied by pointing out that the same argument was used against abolition itself: it would upset the established order of social relations. They effectively linked up women's rights and emancipation of the slaves.

Sojourner Truth: "Ain't I a Woman?"

Black women got it from both sides, as the life of Sojourner Truth shows. She was born a slave around 1797 in New York State and was not freed until 1827, under the "gradual emancipation" provisions of the state law. As a slave she was prevented from marrying the man she loved, who was brutally beaten for daring to visit her (they were owned by different masters). They were both forcibly married to other slaves. Her son was sold South as a small child, away from her. After she was freed, she lived a backbreaking existence in New York City, one of the more racist cities in the North and a center for the slave trade.

Sojourner Truth went to all the women's rights conventions. The famous story about her dates from 1853. The usual crowd of male hecklers had almost shut down the proceedings. The women were unable to answer their sneers of how delicate and weak women were. Sojourner Truth asked for the floor and got it, despite the opposition of a lot of the delegates to the presence of a black abolitionist. You have to keep in mind what this woman looked like in this gathering of ladies: she was six feet tall, nearly 60 years old, very tough and work-worn. She said:

"The man over there says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place—and ain't I a woman?
"Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have born...children, and seen most of 'em sold into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me—and ain't I a woman?"

—Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle

Sojourner Truth put her finger on the heart of the contradiction between the stifling idealization of women and their oppression as housewives and mothers and exploitation as slaves and workers.

Women's Rights and the Abolitionist Movement

Support for women's rights was tenuous within the politically diverse anti-slavery movement. Many free-soilers were not anti-racist; some opposed slavery because they didn't want blacks around. Even some of the most dedicated abolitionists argued that "women's rights" could harm the anti-slavery cause, and in 1840 a split in the American Anti-Slavery Society was precipitated by the election of a woman to the leading body.
That same year at an international anti-slavery meeting in London, women members of the American delegation were denied their seats. In the audience was the young Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Out of this experience she decided to begin organizing for women's rights. Eight years later, in 1848, at Seneca Falls, New York the first women's rights convention in the world was held. At first Stanton wasn't going to put forward the vote as a demand—she was afraid it was too extreme. She had to be argued into it by Frederick Douglass. It was the only demand that didn't get unanimous support at the meeting; it was considered too radical.

The role of Douglass was not an accident. The best fighters for women's rights were not the Elizabeth Cady Stantons and the Susan B. Anthonys—the ones who "put women first"—but the left-wing abolitionists. The most militant advocates of black equality, the insurrectionist wing, the prophets of the Civil War, were also the most consistent fighters for women's rights, because they saw no division of interest between blacks and women. Frederick Douglass not only attended all the women's meetings, arguing effectively for full equality for women, but he brought the message elsewhere. He put forward resolutions for women's rights at black conventions, and they were passed. He used to advertise the meetings in his paper and print reports on the proceedings. His paper's motto was, "Right is of no Sex—Truth is of no Color—God is the Father of us all, and we are all Brethren."

The Fight Over the 14th Amendment

Stanton and Anthony had suspended their woman suffrage campaign for the duration of the war. They circulated petitions for a constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, which became the 13th Amendment. After the war Stanton and Anthony set up an Equal Rights Association to agitate for the vote for both blacks and women. They thought because of the broad social upheaval the time was ripe for woman suffrage. But this proved not to be the case.

The question here was citizenship rights under capitalist law, specifically voting. Compare it with how voting rights and citizenship were looked at in another revolution at the same time: the 1871 Paris Commune, the first proletarian revolution (whose example dramatically reinforced ideological conservatism among the American bourgeoisie). The Commune subsumed nationality and citizenship to class considerations. Anybody who got elected from the working class, whatever country they were born in, sat on the legislative body of the Commune, while the industrialists and the bourgeois parliamentarians fled the city and were "disenfranchised" as their property was expropriated.

This was not on the agenda in the United States in the 1860s. The historical tasks of the Civil War and Reconstruction were to complete the unfinished bourgeois revolution, to resolve questions like slave versus free, national sovereignty and democratic rights. In his novel Gore Vidal calls Lincoln the Bismarck of his country, and this is justified. For example, before the Civil War, each state printed its own money. Greenbacks were first made by the Union to finance the war. The Supreme Court regularly said, "the United States are." Only after the war did this country's name become a singular noun—one national government.

But the big question was what to do with the newly emancipated slaves, and this question focused on two things: land and the vote. The debate over the vote represented, in legal terms, a struggle to determine what "citizenship" meant in relation to the state. Many Northern states did not allow blacks to vote, either. The 14th Amendment, which was passed to answer this question, says that all persons born or naturalized in the U.S. are citizens of the nation and of the state in which they live, and that states can't abridge their "privileges and immunities" or deprive them of life, liberty, or property without "due process of law" or deny them "equal protection of the laws."

The Republican Party, which was founded as an anti-slavery party, contained within it many shades of political opinion. It has been argued that the only reason the Republicans gave the vote to blacks was to maintain political control over the states in the conquered Confederacy. This was true of some Republicans, but the men who politically dominated Congress during the period of Radical Reconstruction were committed revolutionary democrats, as observers of the time said of Thaddeus Stevens, who was called the "Robespierre, Danton, and Marat of America." There were good reasons for Douglass' loyalty to the Republicans, given after much early hesitation and sometimes combined with scathing criticism.

But there were a lot of contradictions. The party that was trying to implement black rights was also the party that was massacring the Indians in the West, breaking workers' strikes in the North, presiding over a new scale of graft and corruption, and trying to annex Santo Domingo. In the fight to replace slavery with something other than a peonage system which mimicked bondage, the land question was key. And the robber barons—the moneylords, the triumphant ruling class-rapidly got pretty nervous about the campaign to confiscate the plantations and give them to the blacks. It was an assault on property rights, in line with what those uppity workers in the North were demanding: the eight-hour day, unions, higher wages. The ruling class was quite conscious about this; an 1867 New York Times editorial stated:

"If Congress is to take cognizance of the claims of labor against capital...there can be no decent pretense for confining the task to the slave-holder of the South. It is a question, not of humanity, not of loyalty, but of the fundamental relation of industry to capital; and sooner or later, if begun at the South, it will find its way into the cities of the North.... An attempt to justify the confiscation of Southern land under the pretense of doing justice to the freedmen, strikes at the root of all property rights in both sections. It concerns Massachusetts quite as much as Mississippi."

—Eric Foner, Politics and Ideology in the Age of the Civil War

This question was not resolved quickly, but over a couple of decades. But to collapse a lot of complex history, the revolutionary tide receded under the weight of triumphant capitalism. In 1877 Union troops were withdrawn from Southern occupation as part of the compromise making Rutherford B. Hayes president. The Civil War did not establish black equality, and the 14th and 15th Amendments which codified in law the war's revolutionary gains were turned into virtual dead letters. Nor did the Civil War liberate women, not even in a limited, legalistic sense. They continued to be denied even the simple right to vote (although in some districts in South Carolina in 1870, under the encouragement of black election officials, black women exercised the franchise for a brief time).

From the defeat of Reconstruction was spawned the kind of society we have now. On top of the fundamental class divisions in the U.S. is pervasive and institutionalized racial oppression. The black slaves were liberated from bondage only to become an oppressed race/color caste, segregated at the bottom of society— although today, unlike the immediate aftermath of Reconstruction, blacks also constitute a key component of the American proletariat.

The Birth of American Feminism

Many Radical Republicans were critical of the 14th Amendment, which was a true child of compromise. Sumner called it "uncertain, loose, cracked, and rickety." Opposition centered on a loophole that allowed a state to opt for losing some representation in Congress if it chose to restrict black suffrage—and Southern states exploited this concession. But what Elizabeth Cady Stanton didn't like about it was that for the first time, the word "male" appeared in the Constitution. And this fight was the birth of American feminism.

Of course the 14th Amendment should have given women the vote, and the importance of suffrage for black women was not inconsiderable. But a Civil War had just been fought on the question of black freedom, and it was indeed the "Negro's Hour," as many abolitionists argued. The biggest benefit for women's rights would have been to struggle for the biggest expansion possible in black freedom—to campaign for the land, for black participation in government on the state and federal level, to crush racism in the North, to integrate blacks in housing, education, jobs—to push to the limit the revolutionary possibilities of the period. But Stanton and Anthony sided with the right-wing
assault on the revolutionary opening that existed. They wrote:

"Think of Patrick and Sambo and Hans and Ung Tung who do not know the difference between a Monarchy and a Republic, who never read the Declaration of Independence or Webster's spelling book, making laws for [white abolitionists] Lydia Maria Child, Lucretia Mott, or Fanny Kemble."

Stanton and Anthony embraced race-hatred and anti-immigrant bigotry against the Irish, blacks, Germans and Asians, grounded in class hostility.
They took this position at a time when blacks in the South faced escalating race-terror. The Ku Klux Klan was founded in 1866 to terrorize Southern blacks; hundreds were murdered. Republicans of both colors were targeted, and a special object of Klan hatred was the schoolhouse and the schoolteacher (many of them Northern women). In the North as well there was a struggle over the vote, over integrated schools. There was a fight to end Jim Crow in the Washington, D.C. trolley system (after the law desegregating streetcars was passed there in 1865, Sojourner Truth herself went around the capital boarding the cars of companies that were refusing to seat blacks). The freedmen's struggles for a fundamental transformation of race relations triggered in the North what some historians have called the first racist backlash. Frederick Douglass' home in Rochester, New York was burned to the ground; Republican and abolitionist leaders routinely received death threats.

So in this period of violent struggle over the race question, the feminists joined forces with the Democrats, the political party of the Klan and the Confederacy, who hoped to exploit the women's issue against blacks. Henry Blackwell (Lucy Stone's husband) argued that white women voting in the South would cancel out the black vote. Stanton and Anthony teamed up with George Train, a notorious racist, who financed their newspaper, Revolution. They adopted the slogan "educated suffrage"—that is, a literacy test for voters—which was deliberately formulated against non-English-speaking immigrants and ex-slaves.

Frederick Douglass made a valiant attempt to win the feminists over to support for the amendments at a meeting of the Equal Rights Association in 1869, where he argued for the urgency of the vote for blacks:

"When women, because they are women, are dragged from their homes and hung upon lamp-posts; when their children are torn from their arms and their brains dashed to the pavement; when they are objects of insult and outrage at every turn; when they are in danger of having their homes burnt down over their heads; when their children are not allowed to enter schools; then they will have an urgency to obtain the ballot."

—Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle

At this convention Douglass proposed a resolution which called the 15th Amendment the "culmination of one-half of our demands" while imploring a redoubling of "our energy to secure the further amendment guaranteeing the same sacred rights without limitation to sex." But by this point, a split was inevitable. The feminists blamed the Republican Party and the abolitionists for the defeat in Kansas of an 1867 referendum on woman suffrage. They decided that "men" could not be trusted, and for the first time argued that women must organize separately for their own rights. They even flirted with male exclusionism. The movement split in two, one maintaining a formally decent posture on the race question as a cover for doing nothing. The main wing led by Stanton and Anthony wanted to address broad issues, but their capitulation to racist reaction defined them.

They claimed the ballot would solve everything. Their paper was printed in a "rat" office (below union scale). Anthony urged women to be scabs to "better" their condition, then whined when the National Labor Congress refused to admit her as a delegate! Stanton said it proved the worst enemy of women's rights was the working man.

After Reconstruction went down to defeat, the first "feminists" dedicated themselves to the reactionary attempt to prove woman suffrage wouldn't rock the Jim Crow boat. But in the South, the restabilization of a system of overt racist injustice set the context for all social questions. In the South, any extension of the franchise was feared as a threat to "white supremacy" stability. By 1920, when woman suffrage was passed nationally— largely because of World War I which brought women into industry and social life—not a single Southern state had passed the vote for women, although almost every other state had some form of it.

Today, the bourgeois feminists like to hark back to the struggle over the 14th Amendment as proof there must be a separatist women's movement. They claim Stanton and Anthony as their political mothers. Let them have them! We stand in a different tradition: the heritage of Frederick Douglass, John Brown, Harriet Tubman, the Grimke sisters, of revolutionary insurrectionism against the class enemy. Today, to complete the unfinished tasks of the Civil War and emancipate women and blacks from social slavery requires a communist women's movement, part of a multiracial vanguard party fighting for workers power in the interests of all the oppressed.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

*Women's History Month- "Women, Culture and Class Society"- A Modern Communist Analysis

Click on title to link to "Women and Revolution" article ("Spartacist", Spring 2006) on "The Russian Revolution And The Emancipation Of Women".

March is Women's History Month

The following article was originally published in Women and Revolution, Summer 1974 and may be of more than historical interest to the radical public.


Women, Culture and Class Society, Helen Cantor


At first glance, it would appear that the problems of culture and women's contributions to it are somewhat removed from the immediate tasks of building a revolutionary party of the proletariat, and in a sense, these questions are. The struggle for women's creative and full participation in all aspects of society seems of concern only to the educated women of the middle class. Of what concern is this struggle to revolutionists?

The problem of culture and gaining access to it is a fundamental one for the proletariat. As Trotsky wrote: "The proletariat is forced to take power before it has appropriated the fundamental elements of bourgeois culture; it is forced to overthrow bourgeois society by revolutionary violence for the very reason that society does not allow it access to culture" (Leon Trotsky, Literature and Revolution).

Ever since the beginning of human development the iron necessity to survive has usually necessitated a division between hunting and child-rearing tasks. While this original division did not result in women's present oppression, the development of civilization, i.e., class society, did, by excluding women from many areas of social labor. Women have historically been kept pregnant most of their lives and, under advanced capitalism, isolated in individual households and thus impeded from attaining full expression of their creativity and social productivity. It is only comparatively recently (in the last 200 years) with the development of capitalism, that significant numbers of women (and at first only those of the upper classes) even learned to read or were allowed to attend school.

As Marxists, we are interested in human culture— our fundamental aim is to create a society in which all humanity, unimpeded by material scarcity, can develop its creative abilities freely and to the utmost.

There is a great deal of vulgar materialism and ignorance on the left regarding the relation of culture to the proletariat, due in part to the atrocities of "socialist realism" perpetrated by the Stalinists, including the Maoist variety. "Workerist" philistines glorify the lack of culture in the working class, justifying this by defining all standards of culture as inherently bourgeois. These currents are reflected within women's organizations, too, as shown recently by attempts to create a "women's culture" in opposition to "male-dominated" culture.

"Cultural feminism" has become a trend in what is left of the now largely dissipated outburst of feminist activity of the late 1960's. The women's movement left few organizations in its wake other than a string of women's studies departments on campuses across the country, and small clumps of women's schools or centers (like the Chicago Women's Liberation Union school), most of whose activities center around do-it-yourself gynecology, Volkswagen repair or some variant of "women's culture," such as women's rock and roll bands, poetry readings, paintings or displays of women's crafts. This strain of "cultural feminism" is also evident in recent publications of anthologies of women poets, journals (like Aphra or The Amazon Quarterly devoted to lesbian culture, or The Feminist Art Journal) and endless articles in almost all women's papers (and some liberal papers, like the
Village Voice and the New York Review of Books) on women artists, poets, etc.

The worldview of these cultural feminists is often shared by more political "socialist feminists" and even by many of the ex-New Left Maoists, and is tailed uncritically by groups like the SWP in precisely the same way that they tail black nationalism. To this worldview we counterpose a Marxist materialist understanding of the basis of woman's oppression and of culture in general. In order to seek to create a truly human culture, as Marx said, we must create the conditions in which humanity can, for the first time, make its own history.

Some Currents of Feminism Today

The "cultural feminists" propound several somewhat contradictory theories. First, there are the liberal academics, who argue that there really are great women artists, scientists, leaders, and so on, but that' they have been left out of history, so we don't know about them. This is the "herstory" liner-"write women back into history." As if wiping out centuries of oppression were merely a matter of altering a few textbooks.' "Teach the real contributions women have made in the past," they demand. This argument in effect denies the reality of women's oppression, because it denies that that oppression had any particular effect on women.

Another variant on the "herstory" concept is that the reason nobody noticed all this womanly creative activity was because all culture is male culture and thus the female aspects of creativity were ignored or neglected—like making quilts or weaving, for example (off our backs has had several culture pull-outs on quilt-making). Women's art must be judged by different standards than that of men, advocates of this position say. Women's crafts were not seen as great art simply because women did them—presumably if men had made the quilts they would be displayed in the museums along with the Rembrandts and Greek sculptures.

More radical feminists call for the creation of an entirely separate "women's culture" because, given male dominance, it is supposedly impossible for women to create anything except by withdrawing, creating "their own space." This position asserts that women are inherently different from men, that their sexual identity is the most important thing about them and will inevitably (or should inevitably) determine their social behavior, ideas, creative expression and so on. This argument is quite close to that of the fake anthropologists like Lionel Tiger, who argues in Men in Groups that because of the original biological functions of men as hunters and women as child-raisers,-they have inherent and instinctual responses to life, see the world differently, and are thus naturally assigned to their present social roles (women aren't good at politics, men are more aggressive).

Shulamith Firestone, in The Dialectic of Sex, goes somewhat further than the need for a separate women's culture. For her, culture, in the sense of aesthetics and art, is the expression of women's sexual nature. She writes:

"We have noted how those few women directly creating culture have gravitated to disciplines within the Aesthetic Mode. There is a good reason for this: the aesthetic response corresponds with 'female' behavior. The same terminology can be applied to either: subjective, intuitive, introverted, wishful, dreamy or fantastic, concerned with the subconscious.... Correspondingly, the technological response is the masculine response: objective, logical, extroverted, realistic, concerned with the conscious mind...."

—Shulamith Firestone, The Dialectic of Sex

For Firestone, the sexual division of humanity is the basis from which class divisions grew and from which the division between science and art (objective vs. subjective) developed as well. This division seems. particularly artificial and false, however, when it is noted that men have had less trouble in assuming the "feminine aesthetic" mode—most of the great novelists, poets, artists, etc., have after all been men. Why cannot women therefore equally easily assume the "masculine technological" model?

The most developed expression of "women's culture" (at least in the visual arts) is probably the male-exclusionist Womanhouse arts center created by Judy Chicago in California. Judy Chicago, an artist, has developed the theory that women's art has historically shown a preoccupation with womb-like shapes; 'holes, rounded organic forms (for example Georgia O'Keefe's enlarged flower parts)—the "dark inner space" of woman. Off our backs reviewed a women's art show in New York last November in an article called "another cuntree [sic]—at last a mainstream women's art movement," which enthused over the proliferation of gigantic female organs, erotic art, fruit-flower fertility themes, etc., and projected from these the creation of "a mainstream female art movement," whose emphasis was on woman's sexuality. This vision of the liberated creative woman as a flower/fruit/fecund moon-goddess/earth mother would be funny (in an intimidating kind of way), were it not the very same image of woman that has arisen as a result of her oppression and been used to "keep her in her place," creating with her womb, not her mind—the intuitive, irrational instinctive mother to be kept out of the 'light of day" of men's politics, creativity, social labor.

"Her story"

Obviously, these two beliefs—that women have made contributions but been unrecognized and that women are fundamentally different from men—are somewhat contradictory. The first asserts that women can entirely transcend their oppression in class society and rise above its effects to create an art which is "just as good" as "men's" art, the other that women are deep down different from men and therefore must reject all previous human achievement as "male culture" and create their own exclusionary culture and society. We deny both these assertions.
The "herstory" question is dealt with in an interesting and thoughtful article by Linda Nochlin (an art historian) called "Why Are There No Great Women Artists?" (reprinted in Art News, January 1971). This article has created much controversy within the women's movement, not only because of its position on women, but also for its analysis of what art is.

Of course, one's immediate response to the question is a sharp reaction against the natural male chauvinist answer, "Women aren't great artists because they are incapable of it—all they can do is -make babies." But to say that women are potentially equally capable of true creativity is not the same thing as attempting to prove that they are in fact creative, as Nochlin points out. The truth is that women have not participated fully in the creation and development of human culture, because they have been excluded from social production and kept isolated in private occupations of child-rearing and housekeeping, tasks which were historically necessary and from which women could not escape until the development of modern capitalism which provided the technology and productive resources such that this primitive division of. labor was no longer necessary.

There have been exceptions to this general truth, of course, but they are almost exclusively from the middle and upper classes. To the extent that a few women have been able to be creative, it has been primarily in the arts, in writing novels, poetry and in painting, for instance. One could ask, "Why have there been no great women architects, bridge-builders, scientists, generals?" equally validly. The reason women have contributed in the arts is not due to some "feminine aesthetic" but because these occupations, being essentially individual and private, were more accessible.

But even within the arts, women have not been able to contribute as much as men. Why? As Nochlin puts it:

"... [conditions in the arts are] stultifying, oppressive, and discouraging to all who do not have the good fortune to be born white, preferably middle-class or above, males. The fault lies not in our stars, our hormones, our menstrual cycles, or our empty internal spaces, but in our institutions and our education...."

The production of great art, as Nochlin points out, is not "the direct, personal expression of individual emotional experience. the language of art is neither a sob story or a hoarse, confidential whisper "but has rather involved a self-consistent language of form, teaching, building on the experience of past generations of artists, long apprenticeships and intense and lengthy periods of personal experimentation. Women have in most cases been denied access to these artistic necessities. For example, prior to the twentieth century, women were unable to study the live nude, which was absolutely necessary to an artist's education, and were then accused of being incapable of understanding the male form. Upper-class "ladies" were at most encouraged to paint flowers on velvet or China, and were then accused of being unable to develop large, heroic sculptural forms. Almost all women artists up to the end of the 19th century were either the daughters of artist fathers or fathers sympathetic to their intellectual development; or else were associated with a more dominant male artistic personality (for example, Rosa Bonheur, Victorian painter of animals; Maria Robusti, daughter of Tintoretto, Lavinia Fontana, Renaissance painter; Mary Cassatt, associated with Degas).

To face clearly the fact that only a tiny percentage of privileged women, in exceptional circumstances, have succeeded in becoming successful artists or scientists or whatever they wish is not to despair. Instead of denying the reality of women's oppression, we recognize how this oppression came about and we see a road to end it in the real world through action, instead of retreating to wishful dreaming and academic pursuit of the alleged unappreciated great women geniuses of the past.

Women's Studies and Idealism

The current proliferation of women's studies departments and women's schools implies an underlying philosophy of idealism, which ignores both the actuality and historic necessity of women's oppression and therefore refuses to understand how this oppression must be finally overcome.

Marx asserted that inequality and oppression are historically necessary and can be overcome only through the total development of society, centering on the raising of the productive forces. In Theories of Surplus Value he writes, "... at first the development of the capacities of the human species takes place at the cost of the majority of human individuals and even 'classes...." and in The German Ideology he insists that "in general people cannot ‘be liberated as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. 'Liberation' is an historical and not a mental act...."

But for the women's studies departments, liberation is "a mental act." This belief is characteristic of educated petty-bourgeois academics seeking" to rise above the. uncomfortable harsh realities of class society because they are caught in the middle. On the one hand, they sympathize with the sad plight of the poor, yet still admire the resourcefulness and cunning (and presumably superior intelligence) of the capitalist and hope that maybe they too will be like him someday. Knowledge is power for these dreamers, because to them it seems that ideas rule the world and that if women can only learn the truth about themselves, this will somehow automatically free them.

"Women's Culture"

Those who advocate the creation (or announce the existence) of a separate women's culture also share this idealism, in that they believe it is possible to withdraw from an oppressive society and thus escape its effects. They are either extremely naive, cynically selfish or simply opportunist in advocating this for the mass of women, because it is possible for only a few privileged women with a sufficient financial base to create a relatively pleasant and isolated personal milieu, in which they can concentrate on discovering what their "true sexual essence" may be.
What the "true nature" of men and women is-whether or not men and women have different social needs and expectations because of their biological differences-r-is a question which cannot be answered objectively under the hideously deforming pressures o»f class society.

Attempts to create a separate women's culture therefore tend to end up imitating or using the most extreme caricatures of womanhood—like the fruit/ flower/moon goddess. The attempt to discover a separate "woman's aesthetic" in art of the past, too, is rather difficult. It is obvious that the work of artists within a particular period or school (Baroque, Rococo, Impressionism, German Expressionism, Cubism, etc.)
resembles that of others in the same school far more that the work of individual men and women within each particular school differs.

Stalinism and Art

It's not accidental that some of the proponents of a women's culture reprint Stalinist works or admire Mao's "proletarian" art theories (see for example the paper Women and Art, Summer/Fall, 1972, and its supplement on "Art and Society" devoted entirely to works by Stalinist art historians). The caricatures of "womanhood" (either the eternally strong or eternally suffering woman) are necessary to their art in the same way that caricatures of the proletariat and bourgeoisie are necessary for Stalinist propaganda. They need very obvious symbols to mark their work as clearly identifying itself with a particular viewpoint, and also, in their condescending opinion, in order to be immediately understood by the masses. This "socialist" ^art which requires "realism" as its medium drags all art down to the- level of crude propaganda and clich├ęs of brawny-armed workers, factory chimneys, red flags, etc. Likewise, the cultural feminists need to show "female" symbolism—and in this society no other symbols are available which would be immediately understood by "the masses" except sexual imagery, traditional images of womanhood, round, organic, "warm-tender" qualities, etc.

Many feminist artists are quite hostile to abstract art because it doesn't fit their concept of art as propaganda. It's not immediately obvious what the ideological viewpoint is, or even in fact whether a man or woman painted it.' Thus such work must be under constant suspicion as not being "correct." This vulgarity has nothing in common with what art is, which is not propaganda (not the "hoarse whispered confession" or "sob story"), but rather an attempt to extend consciousness, to break new ground, and is therefore often difficult to understand at first.

Women artists have begged to be judged by the same standards as men, for there is one standard in art. Different standards in this case, as in all other areas, only mean disguised contempt. As Virginia Woolf wrote, "It is fatal for anyone who writes to think of their sex. It is fatal for a woman to lay the least stress on any grievance, to plead even with justice any cause; in any way to speak consciously as a woman" (A Room of One's Own). The question of standards in art is important. As Trotsky said, "proletarian art must not be second-class art" (Literature and Revolution)—the proletarian revolution will lay the basis for creating a culture which must build on (and will eventually supersede the best of all past cultures.

Male Chauvinism

But isn't the concept of culture being used in too broad a sense? What about male chauvinism? Isn't there, after all, such a thing as "bourgeois culture" which can poison the minds of the workers? The uprooting of bourgeois ideology requires not a purge of bourgeois art, a la the "Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution," but the elimination of the material conditions (the repressive nuclear family, social inequality, unequal access to education and jobs, absorption in child-raising and housework, etc.) which have given rise to male-chauvinist ideology. If these conditions are changed, reflections of this change will ultimately appear in literature and art. That is the only way to thoroughly and forever abolish false conceptions of reality. As Orwell said about Salvador Dali (and he loathed Dali, believing him to be a truly sick individual who spread fantasies of necrophilia), it is a dubious policy to ban much of anything, particularly in the fields of art or science. Lenin continually warned comrades not to become too self-assured, too self-righteous, because Marxism is a science of economic and political life which applies only indirectly to other disciplines. Essentially Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky all insisted on the autonomy of art.

Of course there is a dominant "bourgeois culture." But it is based on the entire accumulated experiences of all human societies since the beginning of man. Thus it would be more accurate to speak of "human culture in a bourgeois epoch," for it is this entire range of human culture which the bourgeoisie has taken as its exclusive possession and which the proletariat must conquer. Socialist society must and will base itself upon this entire accumulated experience.

Socialist Humanity

Since the beginning of class society the social roles of men and women have never been equal—that is the goal of communist society. Until such a society is achieved, it is almost impossible to untangle the results of social training and education, which reflect the inequalities of class society, from what may possibly be real differences among peoples, sexes, etc. We are justly suspicious of the uses to which research in "social sciences" is put in capitalist society. As Trotsky said in a speech to a scientific gathering in Russia in 1925:

". .the greater the trust of socialism devoted to direct study of nature, the greater is its initial distrust in approaching those sciences and pseudo-sciences which are linked closely to the structure of human society, its economic institutions, its state, laws, ethics, etc."

—"Dialectical Materialism and Science” in Problems of Everyday Life

Much of these "pseudo-sciences" end up simply justifying the status quo, i.e., capitalism with its attendant evils, because they begin with the assumption of some kind of "eternal human nature" which produces society, and thus that's the way it has to be, forever and ever." Further, all past alleged differences between races and sexes have at one time or another been used by reactionaries as an ideological excuse for the purpose of justifying the oppression of (or even seeking to destroy) the supposedly "inferior" grouping.

But suppose some real aptitudinal differences do exist between men and women and could be proven? Our response would be "so what?" A free society must require absolute equality of opportunity and access to all areas of human life and culture. A proletarian state developing toward communism (the classless society) will have no reason to fear investigation and exploration of all potential differences, because our society will be based upon the absolute equality and freedom of all humanity, regardless of any such differences.

As Isaac Deutscher said at a Socialist Scholars Conference on the subject of "socialist man":

"We do not maintain that socialism is going to solve all predicaments of the human race. We are struggling in the first instance with the predicaments that are of man's making and that man can resolve. May I remind you that Trotsky, for instance, speaks of three basic tragedies—hunger, sex, and death—besetting man. Hunger is the enemy that Marxism and the modern labor movement have taken on.

"Yes, socialist man will still be pursued by sex and death; but we are convinced that he will be better equipped than we are to cope even with these. And if his nature remains aggressive, his society will give him immeasurably greater and more varied opportunities than bourgeois man has for sublimating his instinctual drives and turning them to creative uses.... The average member of socialist society may yet rise, as Trotsky anticipated, to the stature of Aristotle, Goethe, Marx.... And we assume that 'above these heights new peaks will rise.' We do not see in socialist man evolution's last and perfect product, or the end of history, but in a sense only the beginning of history." •