The revolution will be feminist or it will not be

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By Elenira Vilela*

In most organizations, women are less and less accepting of supporting roles. This means that in popular struggles, in the streets, in networks and in elections, the feminist issue has to be placed at the center, the participation of women has to be encouraged, guaranteed, fostered, respected and with due protagonism..

Another March 8th and in Brazil we have record numbers of femicide, violence, rape, we are experiencing a resurgence of misogynistic agendas such as the statute of the unborn child and repeal of legal abortion. But, somehow, it would be a relief if this were a Brazilian problem. All over the world, the resurgence of the right, of fascism, of xenophobia and of the religious crusades – not only Christians, because if we consider the cases of Israel and India we see that the problem is of the religious structures and not of a specific religion or church – has been making women's lives more difficult and dangerous.

We are experiencing an attempt to set back and lose many rights that had already been conquered. And I say that it would be an encouragement if it were only in Brazil because we could be dealing with something that could be faced nationally. But if this resurgence is to be faced nationally, it will only be defeated internationally.

This perception leads to the much repeated – as current and representative – phrase by Simone de Beauvoir: “Never forget that a political, economic or religious crisis is enough for women's rights to be questioned. These rights are not permanent. You will have to remain vigilant all your life.”

Now consider that the crisis is structural, a crisis of the mode of production with repercussions that make it a crisis that spreads in economic, political, religious, humanitarian, international and environmental law dimensions. Capitalism turns against women and for many reasons makes us the social enemies again, those who pervert, those who threaten, those who disrupt (as if the system does not do this for itself) and religious, pseudoscientific arguments are used against us , in defense of tradition, arguments to justify the progressive increase in the domination of our bodies, our capabilities, our will, our political and economic weight, our presence, even.

But this is an immense process of political struggle because resistance is enormous in the various aspects of cultural and social life, in the communities in which our struggles were victorious, where rights were won and our organization became structured and consistent.

In all of human history, there has been no process of political rupture that has not had significant participation – at the very least – and, quite often, the leading role of women in these struggles. The expulsion of the Yankees from Vietnam or the Russian Revolution, among many others that can be mentioned, would have been impossible without the work of women in all areas: political and military analysis and strategy, activities in maintaining social cohesion and political organization , in the production of food and inputs and on the battlefronts.

When the international feminist movement starts to categorically affirm that the socialist revolution will either be feminist or it will not be, I understand that there are three essential aspects.

1. Numeric

It seems ridiculous to restate, but it is not possible to free the working class if more than half of them are doubly chained. And those who remain chained by sexism and misogyny do not fight for liberation against capitalist exploitation. Yes, only a qualitative change in women's intervention in the organization of the working class will allow a quantitative increase in the front and rear lines of women in the struggle. It is obviously known that it is not the entire class that fights, but liberation will not be possible without the participation of its constituent segments. Just as the organized participation of workers and peasants was essential, so too was and is essential the participation of men and women.

2. Strategic

For capitalism, women hold a power that has always put the system at risk. And not just capitalism, but feudalism and any other mode of production based on exploitation and class struggle: the reproduction of the human population, in the case of capitalism specifically the workforce. These systems have always been dedicated to taming women's bodies and behaviors because capital accumulation (and previous forms of domination) depend on the exploitation of human labor and nature. It is necessary – in the construction and ideological support of capitalism – to keep women feeling weak and prevented from participating in the public spheres of decision and organization, so that they cannot use the power they have in relation to the production and reproduction of the workforce[I].

Capitalism does not choose its enemies at random. The domination of women's bodies is a requirement of the system. Following the same reasoning about what makes workers political subjects of the revolution, it is possible to see that women are also political subjects. Furthermore, the struggle to overcome capitalism and build a socialist or communist society needs to be feminist or the construction of this society will never be effective.

It is obvious that not all feminism is socialist, or even anti-capitalist. This is not questioned. And liberal feminism is of little interest to the struggle of most women because when it makes advances, these are restricted to a few women and tend to be the most fragile in the face of setbacks. What is sustained here is that it is not possible to build the overcoming of capitalism without the participation of women and without the feminist struggle being a constituent part of the struggle to overcome capital[ii].

In this sense, it is no longer possible to accept among us on the left the false arguments that the feminist struggle is a struggle that hinders the construction of socialism because it diverts the focus. This pseudo-argument demonstrates a false understanding of reality. These two aspects are inseparable, as the fight against racism is inseparable from the struggle for rights and freedom in Brazil and in many other countries, such as Israel. Another pseudo-argument is that this is an identity struggle or an agenda of customs, denoting an enormous lack of understanding of the situation. This is a life and death struggle and it is a power struggle. This is one of the aspects of the democratic struggle, a strategic step in the struggle to overcome capitalism.

All capitalist attacks deepen the internal contradictions of capitalism and in the most incisive and cruel way hit the lives of women across the globe. The destruction of the environment, imposing a lack of drinking water and the difficulty of producing food locally for subsistence, for example, the increase in hunger and unemployment, the weakening of social security rights, the dismantling of education systems, attention to health and public assistance, the withdrawal of labor rights, among many other processes we are experiencing, hit women harder.

We live on lower wages, but most of us don't even have a salary or a job; we study more and yet we are underrepresented in management positions; when elderly men are left without health and social security assistance, it is a woman who gives up her job to take care of him and when a day care center closes, it is a woman who is left without a job or abandons her studies to take care of the children; when there is no water, it is the women who have to walk further with cans on their heads to fetch water. All this without stopping to contribute to the family income: pejotization, precariat, uberization, outsourcing, façade entrepreneurship.

None of this is new to the millions of women who plant and process what they harvest to sell, who work in candy making or sewing, who work at home with software or magazine sales while taking care of families and homes, who work with the services without a contract or rights (from manicurists to commercial representatives, from quarries to domestic workers, from researchers – graduate students with scholarships to those who work transporting children, etc.). The concrete changes in the structuring and forms of exploitation of the working class impose tactical and strategic changes in overcoming capitalism and building socialism, failing to understand the strategic role of the feminist struggle is to make it impossible for the exploited to win over the exploiters.

3. Tactical

Today, the fundamental importance of the feminist struggle against the advance of fascism is clear. The feminist struggle has gained relevance in processes such as facing the election of Donald Trump, the fight against xenophobia, the defense of nations invaded by imperialism, the fight against setbacks in environmental agendas, the fight against coups and the weakening or destruction of bourgeois democracies, especially in Latin America.

Great leaders of women and feminists emerge (with their particularities and not all with a socialist profile) from Malala, Ângela Davis (who did not emerge now, but gained a lot of prominence), Judith Butler, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gretha Thunberg, Patricia Arce, Alexandría Ocásio Cortéz, Theresa Kachindamoto, Juana Payaba, among many others. Capitalism and authoritarianism are so aware of their importance that they have tried to murder and imprison many of them, such as Marielle Franco, Juana Ramirez Santiago, Daniela Carrasco, Farkhunda Malikzada, María Eugenia Choque Quispe, Khalida Jarrar, Ahed Tamimi, among literally thousands of others.

In 2017, a turning point took place. March 8, International Women's Day, gained another connotation. In the face of great feminist acts in many parts of the world in 2016, highlighting the act of Argentina against the rape and murder of a young woman consecrating the campaign No one less, the huge anti-Trump marches in the USA, the protests against the ban on abortion in Poland and the demonstrations of women from Fora Cunha in Brazil, among others, a call was made for the “8M International Women’s Strike – if our lives do not matter, that produce without us” in the face of machismo, misogyny and patriarchy, with a clearly and explicitly anti-capitalist character (which is usually a consensus without debate, as a given and easy assumption for all militants) and in the struggle to defend the life and rights of women .

From this call, the international women's movement gained new articulation and a privileged condition to face the return of fascism internationally, following Brecht's motto that we face fascism by fighting against capitalism. It is no coincidence that one of the biggest mobilizations in Brazil against the coup, Temer, fascism and the breakdown of democracy that Bolsonaro represents were organized from the women's movement. In addition to Fora Cunha, the fights against the coup and the huge mobilizations of the 8M in 2017, 2018M Tempo de Rebelião contra a Previdência da Previdência and 2019 8Marielle, it was still the feminist movement that built #Elenão and in the peripheries it was among women that Bolsonaro has much smaller votes.

In the current historical moment, it is essential that the left stops placing this as a secondary issue and, on the contrary, prioritizes the participation of women and, above all, the feminist struggle as its whole.

For some time now, in most organizations, women have accepted less and less of a supporting role. This means that in popular struggles, in the streets, in networks and in elections, the feminist issue has to be placed at the center, the participation of women has to be encouraged, guaranteed, fostered, respected and with due protagonism. It should be for the simple recognition that we cannot accept a society that kills people because they were born women, because they do not accept being the property of other people (would the name of that be slavery?), because they suffer terrible violence from their earliest childhood, because it is It is unfair that someone so competent cannot assume leadership positions due to their gender or that, even with a higher education, they keep a smaller part of the wealth they produce, being overexploited. But it is also because without us women it will be impossible to conquer the freedom of the working class, it will be impossible to take over the means of production. So we repeat, asking for poetic license:

Workers from all over the world, unite in the revolution!

Revolution that will be feminist or will not be!

Until we build what Rosa de Luxemburgo taught us: “A world where we are socially equal, humanly different and totally free”.

*Elenira Vilela She is a professor and member of the national board of the National Union of Federal Servants of Basic, Professional and Technological Education (SINASEFE).


[I] I do not disregard the fact that there are trans men who can also participate in the reproduction of humanity. But, on the one hand, this participation is statistically small (among trans men, few decide to get pregnant and it is this specific aspect that we are dealing with). On the other hand, we know that from these processes of violence and attacks, the trans population suffers even more than cis women in general. And that trans women are part of the reproduction contingent, not getting pregnant and giving birth, but taking on the care work. This is a population that needs to be welcomed and protected because violence against them increases significantly and brutally. But that requires an entire article so that we can understand the living conditions of these people.

[ii] The concept of intersectionality has been fundamental in the feminist movement, in understanding that women are not all the same. Depending on whether cis or trans, whether straight or LBT, whether black, indigenous, Arab or white, whether proletarian or bourgeois, whether educated or not, whether urban or peasant, whether peripheral or not, whether young, mature or elderly, whether practitioners of Christian, Muslim, Afro-based religions, or atheists, whether they have a disability or not, whether they are fat or thin, among many other social, economic and cultural aspects their life as a woman, the type of oppression they suffer and the possibilities to live with freedom and dignity change substantially. That is why it will not be enough to fight sexism, misogyny and patriarchy, but it is also necessary to face racism, LBTphobia, ableism, religious prejudice, credonormativity, fatphobia and any and all forms of oppression.

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