Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Communist League

Should Women Fight Imperialism?

First Published: October, No. 5, Autum 1990.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Historically the oppression of women by men pre-dated the development of class-divided society. That oppression, in different forms, is still widespread in a world dominated by imperialism. Today, women are divided amongst different classes and different nationalities. Some are in oppressor nations; some (the majority) are in oppressed nations. A small number are part of dominant classes; the vast majority are to be found as part of the exploited classes. The majority in the oppressor nations suffer class oppression. The majority in the oppressed nations suffer both class and national oppression. All women in the oppressed nations suffer national oppression. All women, wherever they are, suffer from male domination to varying degrees.

Class exploitation and national oppression are products of imperialism. Thus, women who suffer class exploitation and national oppression have a vested interest in overthrowing imperialism in order to rid themselves of those two types of exploitation and oppression.

A separate question arises as to whether women, as a group oppressed by men, have a vested interest in overthrowing imperialism as part of the struggle to rid themselves of male oppression.

The new era of capitalism, and its subsequent development into imperialism, was built on pre- existing sexist societies. The form they took mirrored those sexist societies. The forms of male domination may have changed but the new systems perpetuated that male domination. Indeed, it is clear that capitalism and imperialism were male-dominated from the outset. Through the “family wage” system, capitalism formalised a new type of economic subordination of women to men. In other respects, capitalism increased the forms of the oppression of women. A system based on a one-sided emphasis on individual competition and inherent violence was to the disadvantage of those already at the bottom of the system, i.e. women. The development of mass communications and advertising under capitalism has enforced a stereotyped image of women and turned them into commodities. Women as women have been manipulated and exploited in the labour force. “Women’s work” is traditionally low-paid. Women have, at specific periods of history, either been encouraged into or excluded from the workforce. It has to be recognised that women have struggled within capitalism to win various reforms (for women). They have done this despite opposition from both capitalism and male attitudes.

The key area in which imperialism will be defeated is in the oppressed nations of the Third World. The women in the Third World are the largest group of the most oppressed and exploited people in the world. Women make the largest contribution to the agricultural sector of the pre-capitalist forms of society, incorporated into the imperialist system’s peripheral sector. That sector is essential to the production of superprofits from the peoples of the world. Women’s subordornate role in pre- capitalist society was taken on board by imperialism, integrated into it and perpetuated by it. Women’s work was made harder, further split from male activities. The form of integration destroyed and devalued specific tasks that were traditionally women’s role, without replacing them with other roles that were valued. Women’s role was further marginalised. Women’s role in the family and agriculture was. excluded from wage labour in general. Men were used in wage labour which was recognised by the system as valued labour. Women, specifically, are exploited by imperialism in special economic zones (where the value of labour falls below the minimum world value of labour). Also the massive expansion of prostitution and pornography in the Third World was a product of imperialism. Young women are sent to the big cities as prostitutes by their male-dominated families, to supplement the incomes of peasant-based farms, and to serve Western-organised sex tours. It is women in the Third World that bear the brunt of all the aspects of imperialist domination of their countries.

It is clear that the very nature of capitalism and imperialism has perpetuated various forms of women’s oppression by men and has created new forms of that oppression. Men, in general, have allowed that to happen. Indeed, the male oppression of women is a real safety valve for the oppressed and exploited male under imperialism. Men gain real short-term advantages from the oppression of women.

It is also clear that although women played a significant role in various national liberation struggles and attempts at socialist revolution,once those stages of struggle were successful, the women’s issue was not taken up in a significant way. This seems to be a result of not fully grasping the particular nature of women’s oppression, but just seeing it as a part of other struggles (national and class).

The vast majority of women have a vested interest in overthrowing imperialism in order to rid themselves of class and/ or national oppression. To take a purely feminist position and ignore class and national oppression is irrelevant to the daily situation that the vast majority of women are in. In many specific situations, imperialism has created new forms of women’s oppression. This is a concrete link between women’s struggle for their own liberation and their involvement in the more general struggle against imperialism. Equally it has to be recognised that imperialism took on board much of the oppression of women by men from previous stages in society. That oppression was created by men, and perpetuated by men, for their own advantage, under imperialism. It must be recognised that the destruction of national oppression and the ending of class exploitation do not automatically lead to the ending of male domination.

The struggle of women against male domination must go on now under imperialism, continue throughout the struggle to overthrow imperialism, and remain a major issue in the period of striving to build socialism. Obviously, in the real world, areas of struggle will always have aspects of class, national and women’s struggles. The emphasis will differ from struggle to struggle. Men must always recognise that they are oppressors of women, and that women have the right to decide their own priorities in fighting their particular oppression.