Kjersti Ericsson:
The polyphonus revolution

The patriarchal inheritance

Table of contents | AKP home page | More pages in English

In this chapter: A women's perspective - from addition to a new orientation |
The art of overlooking half of humanity | Exploitaion has a gender dimension |
The work that disappeared | Class power and production point
| Reproduction - inferior and subordinate? |
The silent areas | Gender and class


A women's perspective - from an addition to a new orientation

The well-known psychologist Jean Piaget studied the development of thought in children and adults: he described two different mental processes. People are continuously having new experiences and getting new knowledge. These experiences are fit into, put in connection with the already existing picture of reality, a way of looking at the world. As long as new experiences, new knowledge fits into the old frames, we are speaking of a process of adjustment. But every now and then the new experiences we have, the new knowledge we receive, will not fit into our usual way of seeing reality. They demand a break with the framework, a totally new picture of reality, a new way of thinking. When this type of change occurs, it is a process of new orientation.

The same kind of change - from adjustment to new orientation - has occurred with the relationship of women's perspective and struggle to knowledge about society and strategy for change. In the beginning it was a matter of bringing forward women's reality as an addition, to fill out the picture. Most men still see it this way. If the women's perspective is interesting at all, it is as something extra, a supplement, something that completes the total picture with a piece that was missing. For more and more women it is different: the framework doesn't have room for the new experiences, the new knowledge which the women's perspective brings forth. The framework must burst its bounds, make room for new reality. It is a matter of new orientation. The importance of a women's perspective for today's struggle and for the strategy for a new society lie in this: the old way of thinking cannot encompass it, a new orientation is necessary. The old answers which revolutionary theories and movements have given on how humanity can free itself from capitalism and imperialism, have proved to be incomplete and partially wrong. New answers are being looked for. But new answers do not make their appearance as the result of thinking done by geniuses. New answers must be brought forth by social forces and movements. The women's struggle is that kind of force. It cannot bring forth the new answers alone. But it can give a decisive contribution to breaking up the old patterns and forcing a necessary new orientation. In one area after the other the women's struggle asks the questions and brings in perspectives which have been overlooked earlier, problems and perspectives which have great common importance for social rebel (agitation?) movements. If they do not accept the challenge from the women's struggle, these movements risk being left behind.

The art of overlooking half of humanity

Women own less than 1 percent of the world's property, receive one tenth of the world's income, and do two thirds of the world's work. Statistical pedants may question the accuracy of this sharply formulated statement from a UN report on women's situation by former General Secretary Kurt Waldheim. In any case it reflects a reality that should make it clear to all revolutionaries that it is not enough to use a class perspective on exploitation and oppression in the world. Exploitation conditions, capitalism and imperialism as systems cannot be understood unless the gender perspective is included. And a strategy for liberation that does not absorb the struggle against the oppression of women, can only limp along.

But most revolutionary movements and the majority of the well-known revolutionary leaders and theorists have still managed to overlook women to one degree or another. Marx himself wrote horrifyingly of the exploitation of women and children's labor. But capitalism created its own slayers. Male workers were the revolutionary force. In one place he mentions that female workers are "the mothers confiscated by Capital" (Marx, "The proximate effects of machinery on the workman" in Capital, vol. I, p. 373, Moscow 1977). Now, usually it is property which is confiscated. And one may ask whose property "mothers" are to start with. The obvious answer is the husband's.

There are other statements, far friendlier in their tone towards women, both from Marx himself and from other classics. But my point holds anyway - that women are, in the main, made invisible as a force in the struggle against capitalism and imperialism. And my point holds today, too. The book The Philippine society and the Philippine revolution by Amado Guerrero (pseudonym for Jose Maria Sison) is considered the "bible" of one of the strongest guerrilla movements in the Third World for the last twenty years. Women have a quarter of a page among the 200, under the title "Special social groups" (Guerrero 1970, p. 156). It says:

"Women can perform general as well as special tasks in the revolution. This is an effective method for liberating them from the clutches of feudal conservatism and also from the decadent bourgeois misrepresentation of women as mere objects of pleasure."

The perspective is that men liberate women. The idea that women can feel the need to liberate themselves from, among other things, the claws of revolutionary male chauvinism, doesn't seem to have occurred to Guerrero/Sison. In 1989 Sison published a new book on the strategy for the Philippine revolution. Rainer Werning is ghost writer for the book, and it is presented as an interview with Sison (Sison & Werning 1989). Women are missing there too. That is even more sensational, since women have been very much to the fore in the Philippine liberation struggle in the last twenty years. The Philippines is perhaps the country in Asia that has the strongest, most versatile, best organized and most clearly formulated women's movement. Women also take part in the difficult and dangerous work in the party, in the agricultural movement, trade union movement, in the struggle in city slums.

Earlier, I have emphasized Samir Amin as an interesting revolutionary theorist today. His analyses of how capitalism indirectly exploits the non-capitalistic sectors in the Third World go straight to one of the most important questions for understanding the particular, indirect exploitation of women. But Amin never mentions that this has anything to do with women. In the book "De-linking" he has a chapter where he discusses the different popular alternative movements in the West. In this chapter he says (1990, p. 165):

"Possibly the only movement to have sustained a degree of consistency over the two decades is the women's liberation movement. Its impact is also, in our view, more fundamental than that of the other currents which inescapably wear the guise of a succession of "fashions"."

But this is also the only thing he says about the women's movement! Then he goes on to discuss different "green" theorists. Not a single feminist theorist is mentioned, far less discussed. Hasn't he read any? Anyone who has tried to fight for a women's perspective in revolutionary movements and parties, knows that it is both a tough and complicated task. It is also a task which is very reminiscent of housework: if you don't sweep regularly, the dust and dirt creep in again quietly and unobtrusively. In an article Kumari Jayawardena and Govind Kelkar comment on the Left's relations to feminism in South Asia. Although they point out a certain progress in the last years, they state quite sharply (Jayawardena & Kelkar, 1989):

"Many of us also have personal experience of male chauvinism on the part of the leftist intellectuals in the region - our experience is often that the greater the man's "reputation" and "importance" is, the worse his relationship to feminism. The degree of ignorance of women's questions gives grounds for worry; few of the left's intellectuals can be bothered to read or understand feminism's theory and practice. Instead they have chosen, like their "bourgeois" colleagues, to reject the movement as a western fashion for upper class women that has no relevance for the local situation."

And further:

"The ghost of western feminism has been used by the leaders of many leftist parties and by many leftist ideologists to attack local feminists as bourgeois, westernized and influenced by "white" feminism. It is asserted that by raising feminist questions in South Asia, feminists tear apart the family, split the working people along gender divisions, and ruin the party."

Put in "bourgeois feminism" in stead of "western feminism" and the argument is identical to the ones innumerable women in the western worker's movement's organizations and parties keep hearing. Jayawardena and Kelkar are not the only ones either who have reason to worry about radical men's lack of knowledge when it comes to women's questions, or their lack of interest in reading women's politics and theory. This often goes for men who are positive to women's struggle, too. Behind all this we are likely to find an idea that women are a "special social group", to borrow Sison's chapter title. This group can have just demands which it is right to support. But apart from that the woman question has no consequences for the wholeness of political analysis and strategy.

That is exactly where the woman question belongs, in the whole. I have said earlier that one of the big challenges for revolutionaries and progressives in our part of the world is to free themselves from eurocentrism. Popular movements which let themselves get locked into a eurocentristic perspective lose their liberating potential, both in the long and the short run. It is the same case for male chauvinism and the male chauvinistic perspective. And this is the big challenge for men in revolutionary and progressive movements all over the world. We must say that, up till now, they have not been good at meeting it. 

Exploitation has a gender dimension

Capitalistic and imperialistic exploitation is not just a class question. To understand this it is not enough to study capitalistic production as an isolated phenomena. One must see capitalistic production in connection with other forms of production, and one must see "the working world" in connection with other institutions, particularly the family.

Capitalism and imperialism are social formations where different types of production go on. Capitalistic commodity production is the dominating form of production, that which decides the character of economic life. But it is not the only form of production - even in the most developed capitalistic centers. In all parts of the world one can find production which is not directed toward the market, but toward directly satisfying needs. Production that is directed towards sale on the market is called exchange value production. Production that is directed towards directly satisfying needs is called use value production.

This does not mean that production which is not capitalistic commodity production is a sort of isolated island in a surrounding sea of capitalism. There is an economic connection between capitalistic commodity production and the other type of production. The other forms of production take part in deciding the conditions for capitalistic commodity production, and the other way around. But it is the capitalistic commodity production which dominates, and in a way rendered the other forms of production subservient.

In the Third World one sees most clearly that the capitalistic sector stands for indirect exploitation of the non-capitalistic sector. The price of labor is, as we know, far lower in the Third World than in our part of the world. There are several reasons for this. Amin points out one of them when he states (1988, p. 132):

"... the reproduction of labor power is partially assured through the transfer of value accruing from the small non-capitalist production of goods and from the production of non-market goods. The most important mass of non-capitalist goods-production work (of rural producers) and non-market work (subsistence economy and domestic economy) in the periphery, means a transfer of value from the periphery where it is generated towards the dominant centre."

What does "reproduction of labor" mean? It is simply two things: first the laborer must live so that he/she can turn up in capable shape at work day after day. He/she must eat, sleep, recreate, have clothes on and a roof overhead. Secondly, new workers must be born and brought up so they can take over from the old ones when they are worn out. In the meantime, while they are children, they, too, must have food, clothes, housing, education, care. The worker's pay must cover all this. Part of the value the worker creates during the day goes back to the worker as pay. They go to reproducing labor. The rest of the value the worker creates during the day goes to the capitalist. This is what we call surplus value and it is the basis for the capitalist's profit.

So how can the reproduction of labor be partially secured through transfers from non-capitalistic work, as Amin says? Veronica Bennholdt-Thomsen (1984) has made a study that looks at wage labor's relationship to subsistence agriculture in the Third World. The wage laborer often has a wife who does subsistence farming, that is, she produces use value, not for sale on the market. She produces what she and the children need to live, and partly what the husband, the wage laborer, needs to live. But if the laborer's family, and partly the laborer himself, is supported by what the wife produces on her subsistence farm, then he needs less wages to live than he otherwise would. The capitalist's expenses for reproduction of labor become less, and the profit thereby higher. The capitalist's profit grows because he is "sponging off" the work the laborer's wife does in the non-capitalistic sector: subsistence agriculture. The pattern Bennholdt-Thomsen describes is clearly seen in the life histories of women who took part in the struggle for liberation in Zimbabwe. Sosana Marange (Staunton 1990, p. 12) says:

"When my husband began to work, life for our family began to improve. My husband was earning one pound ten shillings a week which at that time was a lot of money. So we managed to send our first child to school. I also worked on the land but I always had to plough last, because the cattle owners wanted their fields ploughed first. Nonetheless, the Lord blessed me and I grew enough food, although I was always the last one to plant crops."

And Thema Khumalo (p. 73):

"I worked on the land, ploughed, looked after the cattle, took care of the garden and cared for my children - all the work that had to be done at home. My husband visited me at weekends. In our time, nearly all the home work was done by women although sometimes we hired people to help us, especially when we wanted to erect thorn fences around our homes, fields and gardens. When the war started my husband was still working in the factory."

Both Sosana Marange and Thema Khumalo had 8 children.. Most of the work to keep these children alive (and thus create a new generation of workers) was done by the women, outside of capitalistic production.

Scott (1984) quotes work by Barbara Stuckney and Margaret Fay, which describes how this system started under colonialism. Taxing and expropriating land was used to create a "surplus force" which could be used on European-owned plantations and in the mines. The workers got just enough cash to stay alive while they were working. This system gave the employers a continuous stream of labor, without making the employers economically or politically responsible for the survival of this labor in the long run. Wage work in mines and on plantations, in building and transport gave no security in the case of illness, accident, unemployment, old age or for the family. All of these "social services" were taken care of by subsistence agriculture in the African or Asian villages. The employers were exempt from carrying the full cost of reproduction of labor to much greater degree than in Europe in the 19th and 20th century.

This indirect exploitation of an important non-capitalistic sector is far and away an exploitation of women as a gender. Dankelmann and Davidson (1988) point out that women make up the majority of the world's subsistence farmers. In most agricultural cultures it is their work which supplies the family with basic foodstuffs, added to food which they get by exchange trade or by selling any surplus. It is usual to underestimate the amount of farming women do, because the statistics measure wage work, not unpaid work. Also, in some cultures men do not wish to admit that their wives, mothers and daughters farm.

Stuckey and Finn (quoted in Scott, p. 71) state that the so-called "informal sector" in the big cities of the Third World plays the same role as subsistence agriculture in the countryside:

"Earlier the Third World's wage workers were completely dependent on family members who worked in the subsistence sector. Their work was absolutely necessary if the low-paid worker was to survive. This dependency is now being re-created in the towns. What is called growth in the informal sector, is, in reality, a relocation of the rural subsistence sector to the towns."

The informal sector is really the economy of the unemployed - those who must subsist by selling homemade cigarettes, cakes, or other things on the street. This is a sector which has swollen in step with the slums, where economic refugees from the countryside try to survive from day to day. The informal sector offers wares at a price which is well below that on the "usual" market. A worker who can buy cheap homemade cigarettes, cheap homemade clothing and cheap fruit on the street, can manage on less wages than if he/she otherwise had to shop for everything in the stores. And less wages to the worker, means more profit to the capitalist.

Women make up a large part of those who work in the informal sector. There are many reasons for this. Women often have less chance of getting work in the "formal" sector than men, because of poor or no education and other conditions. Women have the responsibility for children, what are they to do with them while they work? In the informal sector they can take them along. And they can "choose" their own working hours.

Work in the family in our part of the world functions in principle in the same way as work in the Third World subsistence sector, although the degree of exploitation cannot be compared. Work done in the family is not meant to produce anything that can be sold on a market, whether commodities or services. It is work meant to satisfy the family's needs. But this work is economically connected to capitalistic commodity production outside the home. If unpaid work were not done in the home, this work would, instead, have to be bought on the market (just as we buy the cook's cooking work, the kitchen assistant's washing up work and the waiter's service work when we eat at a restaurant). But in that case people would have to have a far higher pay and the capitalists' costs for reproduction of labor would increase considerably. It would mean less profit. Free work in the home helps keep pay down and profit up. In this way capitalism indirectly exploits work in the home in our part of the world, too. There is little doubt that this is mainly a question of exploitation of women as a gender.

The indirect exploitation of non-capitalistic sectors (which to a large degree is an exploitation of women) is a system characteristic of capitalism as it actually exists. When one forms a strategy to change this system, one cannot concentrate only on what goes on in capitalistic production, isolated from the rest. The picture will be wrong and so will the political conclusions one draws.

Capitalism "sponges off" non-capitalistic sectors and thereby increases profit. This is closely connected to the family as a social institution, as we have seen. The family is an economic unit meant to solve important social tasks. It is the core in the system that sustains the power relations and the distribution of work between the sexes. And it re-creates, generation after generation, deep psychological structures as supports for these power relations and distribution of work. This means that it is impossible to stop capitalistic exploitation of women without affecting far more than what we think of as the "production area". Everything hangs together, from the "soul" to the major characteristics in the economic system. This becomes particularly obvious if one takes full liberation of women as the starting-point for the strategy. One has to take a very conscious stand to the fact that changes will occur at all levels, and that one must have a cohesive strategy for all levels.

This also becomes clear when looking at women's situation as wage workers in the capitalistic production. Women are exploited as labor. But this exploitation, too, takes on special forms, decided by the women's social position as a gender. In the last years the concept "women's wage" has become a part of the political vocabulary in Norway. This concept was created in the encounter between the women's movement and women in the trade unions, and makes visible the fact that women are paid more according to gender than according to job or line of work. The pay level in lines of work which are dominated by women is surprisingly alike (and low), no matter the content of the work. In the main there are two conditions behind women's wages:

The low women's wage reflects this pattern of the man as the main labor and the woman as supplementary labor. A woman's wage is a "supplementary wage" which assumes a male head of the family with full wages. To provide for oneself and children on a women's wage is almost impossible. It is not supposed to be possible either. This leads to two things for women:

"It doesn't, in itself, do much good that the woman works. She must be as strong in relation to her job and as independent of his job as he has been of hers. That means she has to have a job which is as good or better than his. It doesn't help much either that she has an education unless it is as good or better than his. Children, in themselves, do not help. In area after area we come up against a main rule which states that the power relations decide the division of work at home."

The fact that women have the main responsibility for housework and care at home means that she also goes into the work market on different premises than men. The job must not impede on the family. Therefore women often work part-time and they go in and out of jobs according to the different phase in life more frequently than men do. Consequently, they often end in instable jobs with few trade union rights. Some of the same conditions which turn women in the Third World into street peddlers etc. in the informal sector, turn women in the North into low paid part-time workers with inconvenient working hours and few trade union rights.

Women are also subject to gender-decided disciplinary techniques at work. Even if women get paid work, they often remain the family's "property". Raj writes about the situation for young female workers in Indian free trade zones (1988, p. 79). Female labor, particularly young women, are used by the family as a kind of "insurance" against unemployment in case the main provider loses a job. Bonds to, and subordination in, the family makes it difficult for women to risk their income through strikes or other oppositional activity at work. The family demands that she go along with discipline on the job because her wage work is their "insurance" against being left with no income. Women's subordination in the family and their subordinate status at the work place strengthen each other reciprocally.

Studies from Norwegian places of work show that women have less freedom in their work than men do. More women than men report repeated and monotonous movements, that they are physically worn out after work, that they cannot take small rests, nor leave without getting a substitute. More women than men have little influence on the work tempo, have little opportunity of planning the day's work, do not take part in decisions on their own tasks, do not take part in decisions on their working partner, have little variation in their work. (See Wergeland, 1987.) This probably reflects the fact that female workers are not only the subordinate class at the work place, but also the subordinate gender.

When traditional women's work, like caring, is done as paid work, special difficulties arise. In the woman-dominated health and social sectors the employees do care work although the organizational framework does not take into consideration the special aspects of this type of task. Stiff, bureaucratic systems are seldom good at taking care of people's health and social problems in a way that stresses the whole. People's bodies, souls and life situations are cut up into isolated pieces by chance to fit the bureaucratic division of labor between offices which are responsible each for their piece. It doesn't get better as economic efficiency ideas get a better hold. The regular employees, mostly women, have to attempt to alleviate the human distress this causes. They have to use their own strength and resources to soften the sharp edges of the system, just as they do as care persons in the home. This creates a continuous physical and psychological pressure which often leads to being worn out and burned out. Ragnhild Nielsen's description of what it is like to be a home aid for the municipality of Oslo illustrates this (Ericsson, 1991):

"Before, we had the time to sit down and talk, go for a walk with the clients. Now there are many days when there are so few people at work that one can only do the shopping. It's not any cheaper doing it this way, people get sick a lot there's so much stress. We mainly get a heavier and heavier clientele, because it's difficult to get into a nursing home and to get help. Take, for example, a couple, one's sick and the other is quite well. Then they both get sick, because the one who is well doesn't get any help. Before, when he was the one who was ill and she didn't dare leave him, the home help would come and she could go out and had a bit of freedom. Now, the home help maybe just comes in and shops for them every now and then, and they both end up as nursing home patients."

Plantation owners in Sumatra during the colonial period combined exploitation of female labor in a gender-decided way by tying the male labor up in what was almost a form of slavery. The need for labor was filled by importing male workers from Java. To make the plantations more attractive for men, they also employed female contract workers. But their pay was so low that they had to have extra income. The "solution" was prostitution, or a mixture of prostitution and housework - the women were used a cooks and "bed-warmers" for the male workers. However, payment for the women's services cut so deeply into the male worker's pay that they often had to get loans from the plantation owner. If one of the male workers wanted to move in with a female worker permanently, to reduce the costs of housework and sex, the plantation owners demanded compensation for the expenses they had had in bringing the women to the plantation. This could be arranged by paying him off in regular payments. (Thanh-dam-truong, 1990).

The plantation owners' slave binding of the male workers by giving them women to use, gives a good picture of how the oppression of women works under capitalism and imperialism. Men have some advantages through the subordination of women. But these advantages are bought at a high price: the price is that they themselves are bound more securely in their position as an oppressed class. 

The work that disappeared

Bourgeois economists and Marxists have one thing in common: they have mainly been interested in the production of exchange value, that is, that which is produced for sale on a market. It is not surprising that economists who naturally take capitalism for granted (the only possible and sensible economic system one can imagine), concentrate their interest on exchange value. Capitalism is constituted to produce exchange value which can be realized and give profit. What may exist outside has little or no interest. Marilyn Waring (1989) shows how this is mirrored in the measurements of economic activity and economic growth which are used by international and national organs. That which, in one form or another, shows up in the market economy is registered as economic activity. That which does not show up in market economy, for example, the 14 hour workday spent by an African women in filling the needs of her own family, or the hours a Norwegian women uses on house- or care work, is not counted as economic activity. Both the African and the Norwegian woman is "economically inactive" when they work on something that is not for sale. In this way probably more than half the work done in the world disappears out of the economic measurements. Waring (p. 279) quotes Luisella Goldscmidt-Clermont, who has studied 75 attempts made since 1960 to set a price on the importance of the household sector in industrialized countries. The estimations vary between 25 to 40 percent of the gross national product. She refers to a study from Canada for the period of 1961-1971, done by Adler and Hawrylyshyn. Their method was to estimate what it would cost to get the work in the household sector done if it were to be paid according to the market wage. They found that work in the household sector made up 41 percent of the gross national product if one took women's wage as a starting point, 53 percent if one took men's wage as the starting point. These figures are, it must be clear, from industrialized countries. In the Third World the unpaid sector is far larger, also that part which is considered "housework" because it is done by women.

Another method is to measure the number of hours which are used in each sector. If we are to believe the figures from time budget studies, at least the same number of hours go into unpaid work in the household sector in Norway as in all income-giving work put together. Most of it, approximately two thirds, is done by women (See Norwegian State Public Report (NOU) 1987, No. 9).

There are clearly a number of methodological problems connected with this type of measurement. Measuring the work a women does to fill her family's needs with a tool which has been developed to measure the amount of market economy, is a bit like describing the pattern in a bee's dance with a yardstick. Time as a measurement doesn't give a correct picture either. Can an hour at an assembly line and an hour's work in the household, when a women often does many things at once, for example, cooks and keeps children amused with playing, be compared? Is playing with children while one cooks or cleans "work"? Is cooking while playing with a child "leisure"? None of these answers quite fit. Statisticians often refer to methodological difficulties when they explain why housework is left out of measurements of the nation's economic activity. But the basic problem is not one of method. The basic problem is political. Statistical methods and economic measurements do not fall from the heavens. They are defined on the basis of a certain understanding of what is important and real. This understanding itself arises from certain social interests.

When these economic measurements are made the basis for political actions, one has chosen , before even starting, to overlook large parts of reality. In particular, it is women's and children's reality one chooses to overlook.

It is stranger that Marxists, too, have often written and acted, as though the market was the world. Capitalism's followers have, of course, reason to look upon work which does not create exchange value as inferior and uninteresting. But it is Marxists' goal to eradicate capitalism, in preference for an economic system in which all work is constituted to fill people's needs (use value), not to create exchange value. Human needs are to be the regulator for economic activity, not the maximum amount of exchange value and profit. What is the explanation for so many Marxists having suffered the same form of one-eyed blindness as bourgeois economists? Probably it is a combination of several factors: 1) the picture of the mighty, united wave that rolls forward and turns everything into capitalistic production, has created an idea that all work outside of capitalistic production would, in time, disappear or become only slight left-overs; 2) Marxist movements, too, have been and are male-dominated, and they therefore have a tendency to believe that male reality is the whole reality. And women's unpaid work is taken for granted in the same way one takes the air one breathes for granted - it is so much a matter of course that one fails to see it. (In countries where Marxism was/is official ideology, women's unpaid work is also kept out of all measurements of economic activity.)

The result of this has become, first, a poor analysis of capitalism as a system. It easily shows up as "pure" capitalism, instead of as a social formation where different types of production are included, and where the capitalistic production "sponges off" the unpaid work. Secondly, the result has become a political strategy where women have been given the role of a "special social group", while men obviously are the "general" gender, that is, the mainstream. An analysis and strategy such as this are useless to whoever wishes to fight for real liberation for the oppressed of the world. 

Class power and production point

In classical socialistic theory and strategy the idea has been that the working class mainly manifests as a class in relation to what is usually called "production". That is where exploitation takes place. But it is also the position in production which is the foundation for worker's organization and power. The working class can express their strength here, through, among other things, strikes. The first socialistic state took its name from the worker's council - soviet, worker's organizations with their point of departure at the "production point". In its most revolutionary period the Norwegian working class, too, organized itself in worker's councils. (Bull, p. 256.)

"Around New Year 1918 the workers in the pulp and wood industry along the Drams river and in the iron industry in Christiania (a former name for Oslo, t.'s note) began founding worker's councils after the pattern of the Russian soviets. The basic unit for the worker's councils is simply the workers at a factory. Representatives to the town's or district's worker's council are chosen from all the factories in the town or the district. Such councils were, perhaps, more practical organs than unions when it came to leading direct mass actions with goals extending beyond the purely trade union ones. They welded the whole working class closer together without union boundaries."

One must question Bull's statement that the worker's councils welded all of the working class together. Working class women without jobs had no possibility of being represented. The worker's council's main task was to accelerate the struggle against inflation after the defeat of the anti-inflation mass actions in 1917. Then, as now, it was the women's task to make sure that the family got the maximum out of their meager means. Inflation probably shaped their daily lives more than it did the men's. Did they and their perspective have any place in the struggle? If so, it hasn't left any trace in Bull's presentation.

Beatrix Campbell (1984) writes about the mining societies in England, that the women, in practice, were deprived of their voting rights ("disenfranchised"). Their work was necessary for the functioning of the mines. They brought food, bath water and washed work clothes when their husbands and sons returned from their shift in the mines. What this meant in terms of toil and dirt in the days before bathrooms and washing machines, can make one dizzy just by thinking of it. And yet the miners unions did little to improve conditions by demanding baths, cafeterias at work or laundries for working clothes. When the washing and feeding wasn't done by the mining company, the women had to do it privately, where they became victims to authoritarian treatment and economic powerlessness, writes Campbell. The men had to leave work and go home covered in stinking dust. The zinc bath, where the miner bathed, took a great deal of room in the miner's home and the air indoors became polluted by sulfurous rags. But despite all these disadvantages the miner had some advantages from this state of things, too (p. 106):

"The home revolved around him and his needs. His woman's labour was for him. It was a personal control over the labour and time of women. For the employers, that stake in personal power also provided, at no cost, the work that made miners' work possible."

The trade unions were organized according to production point. Fighting to lighten the burden of women's work was therefore not a "natural" task for them, since the women's work was done in the home. But as the quotation from Campbell shows, there was a close connection between the direct exploitation of the miner in the mine and the indirect exploitation of his wife in the home. Both of these were part of the whole process by which mine owners gained their profits. But the miner's organizations in the mining districts were only interested in half of the process.

In today's Norway half of those actually working in the working class are women. But still the trade union movement is mainly concerned about what happens at the "production point". The fact that female workers are dual workers, have one leg in the home and one at work, and that this marks their lives in every area, has as yet not gained much importance in the trade union movement's priorities and work methods.

It is therefore questionable to consider organization on the basis of production point the "natural" form of organization. That view of what is "natural" inherently makes women and their work in the home invisible. This means that the patriarchal order of things is accepted without question.

All this does not mean that organizing on the basis of production point, in trade unions and in other forms, isn't very important both for women and for men. But that is not the same as saying that this is class organization. It has been shown in many struggles that some other types are needed beside trade union organization. The struggle for a new aluminum factory in Tyssedal (small industrial town in Western Norway, transl.'s note), which raged for 10 years, is a good example. This struggle started as a trade union struggle, but developed, as time went on, into the whole society's struggle for its existence. And that needed other forms of organization. One of them was the association "Long live Tyssedal" where women, in particular, (few of them worked at the aluminum factory), played an active and impelling role. The local social perspective was important for them. Women are often the bearers of culture and the social network and they are concerned with the surroundings the children grow up in. In Tyssedal the women knew that if the aluminum factory were closed, a number of other things would fall apart too. They climbed on to the barricades using this perspective. And daily life accompanied them in the struggle. The following is an excerpt from the diary of a female activist from one of the high points of the struggle: people from Tyssedal filled 5 buses and went to Oslo to say their say in the capital. Sigrun Instefjord did not work at the aluminum factory herself. These are her notes from the day before the trip (Tyssedal, 10 year's class struggle, Oslo 1983, p. 61):

"The alarm clock and Erlend in the garden wake me: "Time to get up now". Make breakfast, write in my diary. Travel in to Odda (larger neighboring town, transl.'s note). Rush through buying two pairs of shoes, candy for Herdis, flowers for the baby-sitter and dash home to get to the strike meeting at 11:00 o'clock. It was full of people.

Erlend comes along for the first time. He thinks it's quite an experience and sits there taking it all in. Learns about the class state, the power of the media, the parliament and the TREASON. Lucky ten year old. He knows much more than I did when I was twenty. Good organization - people pushing on and getting ready to face losses – Run through of the Oslo trip, pack a big lunch!!

Go home - take in the washing, straighten up, hang out the wash, eat dinner, drive Nils and the kids to a soccer game, stretch out for a bit, pack Herdis' things and her doll's carriage. Go pick her up and drop her off.

Pack the tent up so it doesn't spoil the lawn. Buy snuff, tobacco, hard candy and travel sickness tablets = 52 NOK. Take in another batch of washing."

Sigrun's life doesn't just revolve around the "production point". Her struggle has to involve daily life in its entirety. Several years later she comments on the women's role in the struggle for the Tyssedal society in a newspaper interview (Klassekampen March 8, 1988):

""Long live Tyssedal" was founded in the wake of the strikes in Tyssedal. The women had a real need to do their part for the local society. They did not have the right to vote in the trade unions, there they were women married to their husbands. When they started laying off in Tyssedal, 130 men were sent to do road work with three hours traveling time. They had to get up at five in the morning and were home late in the afternoon. The women had more responsibility for house and home, and for all the practical things that have to be done. For a whole year these women's lives consisted of working and sleeping, but it wasn't easy to make that known."

If the starting point for worker's organization and struggle is only defined as the "production point", it is too limited. There is also a need for forms of struggle and organization which make the entirety of women's lives visible, and which can put the struggle in "production" and the struggle in "the home" in the right context, as the miner's trade unions did not do. 

Reproduction - inferior and subordinate?

The unpaid work which is done to satisfy people's needs, usually within the family, is generally called reproduction tasks. The word "reproduction" (re-creating) is used in slightly different ways. It is used about re-creating the commodity "labor", and is, when used in this sense, connected to capitalism as an economic system. But it is also used in a wider meaning, about re-creating life, re-creating the ability to work, taking care of people, also of those people who have no saleable labor. (See Haukaa 1984 for a discussion of the reproduction concept in Marxist and feminist theory, and how none of these two uses alone are enough to throw a light upon women's reality.) Reproduction of labor under capitalism, both the part that has to do with re-creating labor from day to day, and the part that has to do with bringing up new generations of workers, takes place in several different connections. It goes on in production where the worker creates those values which are the foundation for the pay he/she and the family live on. It goes on in the home as unpaid work. And it goes on in institutions such as nursery schools, schools and hospitals.

For capitalism the majority of people are only interesting as the bearers of the commodity called labor. The people who are the bearers of labor that capitalism for one reason or another does not need, are only interesting as items on the expense account. This decides the conditions for people's lives. The systems which take part in reproduction of labor, like home and school, shall create the kind of labor capital needs, preferably as cheaply as possible. The people capital does not need as labor, are to be stored with the least possible cost. For capital people are simply means of production, not goal in themselves. Therefore the reproductive tasks become subordinated to the capitalistic productions demands.

But most common people see themselves and each other as important in their own right, with a right to live a good and dignified life wherein they can engage in activities as human beings. For those who take part in the reproductive tasks, either in the home or in different institutions, there is a collision between their own starting point (people are a goal in themselves) and the premises the system sets for their work (people are means in the capitalistic production process). Since people are meant to adjust to the production process instead of vice versa, the reproductive tasks become subordinated and inferior to conditions in production. These subordinated and inferior tasks are mainly women's work. The family and women's work are used as a sort of "trash can" for problems created, or left unsolved, by production. So women become means twice: they are means to make others capable of functioning in production and social life, on capitalism's terms.

How should the strategy for women's liberation treat this? One possible way is to struggle to "remove" reproduction tasks so that women, too, can share men's opportunities to fully take part in social production, take part in politics, be active intellectually and artistically. Reproduction tasks are a burden which must be removed so that not only men, but women too, can be people. This vision of the way to liberation shares patriarchy's and capitalism's view of reproduction as something subordinate and inferior, and can be found in several versions. One is the classical, Marxist line from Engels and Lenin: the main condition for the liberation of women is that they take part in "social production" and are freed from "slavery in the home". Lenin's famous paragraph on housework leaves little room for it to be considered important work, or that anything positive can spring from these activities. He makes it all the clearer that it is a question of drudgery, drudgery in an unfree position (Lenin, English edition, The Woman Question, 1951, p. 56):

"Notwithstanding all the liberal laws that have been passed, woman continues to be a domestic slave, because petty housework crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades her, chains her to the kitchen and to the nursery, and wastes her labor on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking, stultifying and crushing drudgery. The real emancipation of women, real communism, will begin only when a mass struggle (led by the proletariat which is in power) is started against this petty domestic economy, or rather when it is transformed on a mass scale into large-scale socialist economy."

Simone de Beauvoir has another version. She starts with the pair of concepts transcendence/immanence - where transcendence stands for breaking through barriers, going beyond - that which is the specifically human. Immanence is that which exists within itself, the static, which does not go beyond its own boundaries, is caught in biology. The goal, for everyone, is to engage in activities as real people - the goal is transcendence. The pair of concepts is defined so that they follow the boundary between production/reproduction - where the reproductive tasks express immanence (de Beauvoir, Swedish edition 1986, p. 48):

"But in any case giving birth and suckling are not activities, they are natural functions; no project is involved; and that is why woman found in them no reason for a lofty affirmation of her existence - she submitted passively to her biologic fate. The domestic labours that fell to her lot because they were reconcilable with the cares of maternity imprisoned her in repetition and immanence; they were repeated from day to day in an identical form, which was perpetuated almost without change from century to century; they produced nothing new.

Man's case was radically different; he furnished support for the group, not in the manner of worker bees by a simple vital process, through biological behaviour, but by means of acts that transcended his animal nature. Homo faber has from the beginning of time been an inventor: the stick and the club with which he armed himself to knock down fruits and to slaughter animals became forthwith instruments for enlarging his grasp upon the world. He did not limit himself to bringing home the fish he caught in the sea: first he had to conquer the watery realm by means of the dugout canoe fashioned from a tree-trunk; to get at the riches of the world he annexed the world itself. In this activity he put his power to the test; he set up goals and opened up roads towards them: in brief, he found self-realization as an existent. To maintain, he created; he burst out of the present, he opened the future. This is the reason why fishing and hunting expeditions had a sacred character. Their successes were celebrated with festivals and triumphs, and therein man gave recognition to his human estate. Today he still manifests this pride when he has built a dam or a skyscraper or an atomic pile. He has worked not merely to conserve the world as given; he has broken through its frontiers, he has laid down the foundations of a new future.

Early man's activity had another dimension that gave it supreme dignity: it was often dangerous. If blood were but a nourishing fluid, it would be valued no higher than milk; but the hunter was no butcher, for in the struggle against wild animals he ran grave risks. The warrior put his life in jeopardy to elevate the prestige of the horde, the clan to which he belonged. And in this he proved dramatically that life is not the supreme value for man, but on the contrary that it should be made to serve ends more important than itself. The worst curse that was laid upon woman was that she should be excluded from these warlike forays. For it is not in giving life but in risking life that man is raised above the animal; that is why superiority has been accorded in humanity not to the sex that brings forth but to that which kills.

Here we have the key to the whole mystery. On the biological level a species is maintained only by creating itself anew; but this creation results only in repeating the same Life in more individuals. But man assures the repetition of Life while transcending Life through Existence; by this transcendence he creates values that deprive pure repetition of all value."

The Second Sex was written in 1949. Since then the glamour of "transcendent dams, sky scrapers and atomic reactors has lost much of its charm. Researchers on women, but others too, see big problems related to the dominance of so-called "technically limited" rationality. "Technically limited rationality" is the name researchers on women have given to a line of thought which, in our society, is more characteristic for men than for women. This line of thought is marked by a goal-defined striving to reach a limited object, where both the goal and the means are seen quite isolated from the consequences they have for the relations between people. The opposite of the "technically limited rationality" is women's "care-" or "responsibility rationality", which is strengthened by their work with taking care of people, relations between people and people's needs, both practical and psychological. Women think about the consequences actions have for human relations, and find it therefore more difficult to go straight towards a goal without looking to left or right. "Technically limited rationality" is no more inborn in men than care rationality as a way of thinking and acting is an expression of the mysterious "eternally feminine". It is connected to social and material conditions, to women's place in society. And women's lives are, despite their large amounts of paid work, solidly anchored in that part of the economy (the home) which does not produce exchange value, but use value.

"Transcendence" and "technically limited rationality" are not synonymous concepts, nor are "immanence" and "care rationality". Yet it is typical that some of what Simone de Beauvoir saw as barrier breaking, going beyond, has been called "technically limited" by women today. It is not only changing fashions in the women's movement which motivate this, but also the brutal awakening from developmental optimism and technology fervor. The dams, sky scrapers and atomic reactors may be impressive. But the costs, in the shape of ruined human lives and ruined nature, have often been terrible.

The person who has gone farthest in "removing" reproduction tasks is Sulamith Firestone. She has, not surprisingly, dedicated her book The dialectics of the Sexes (Norwegian edition 1973) to Simone de Beauvoir. It is strange reading Firestone now. On ecology she writes (p. 188):

"It is surely too late to be conservative, to try to restore the balance in nature. What is needed is a revolutionary ecological program that tries to create a human artificial balance (made by people) instead of the natural one. In that way the original goal of empirical science will be realized, namely man's rule over matter."

Sulamith Firestone wants to use technology to remove the reproductive tasks by automating the work away and replacing childbirth with artificial propagation. She has a great belief in technology's and "the empirical science's" ability to secure mankind the "rule over matter". There is a huge step from Firestone to, for example, Vandana Shiva's (1989) criticism of western science and technology, which, according to Shiva, have patriarchy and imperialism "built in": control and exploitation of nature, women and non-white races have gone hand in hand. And many of today's feminists see it as a central task in women's politics to fight against the new reproduction technology, because it turns women into "raw materials" for male experts, raw materials which can be experimented with and controlled. From being a mother, in intimate contact with her own fetus, a women is being reduced to the fetus' "environment". And this environment must be chosen with care, both biologically, socially and morally, so the fetus is not exposed to inferior surroundings. (See Hynes 1989.)

The idea of liberating women through "removing" reproduction tasks carries one of patriarchy's and capitalism's conditions along with it: that reproduction is subordinate and inferior compared to production. In so doing it also carries along an one-dimensional understanding of what the "real" person is, built on the concept of the idealized man. This does not mean that I am against removing or lightening some of the tasks which are done today as private housework, by using technology or in other ways. On the contrary. But far more than scrubbing floors is involved in the reproductive work which is mainly women's responsibility today. It involves a complicated pattern of tasks in caring for people's physical and psychological well-being, it involves social learning, emotional support and challenge, closeness, confirmation, traditions and rituals, cultural transfusion both in the broad and the narrow sense, esthetic and creative elements in daily life. In short, it involves much of that which goes into being human and much of that which is learning to be human. It is time for all this to be lifted out of its secret existence as the background for the "real" male human's "transcendence" and activity. It is time that the picture of the "real" person becomes a complete person, not a half. But this demands a strategy for liberation which does not carry with it the premise that reproductive tasks are subordinate and inferior compared to production, and women and femininity therefore subordinate and inferior compared to men and masculinity.

On the other hand a simple "positive re-evaluation of feminine values" is no solution. Many feminists see positive opportunities in care rationality, opportunities which point towards a new and better society where production exists for people's sake and not the other way around. Tarja Cronberg is one of those who discuss this. She raises the question of whether house- and care work should be expanded instead of restricted (1990, p. 133):

"... the existence of housework and the woman's role in the home have been a condition for women's socialization as women. Without this socialization the difference in social gender disappears - or at the least is weakened.

A central concept in the women's research of the eighties, which has not yet been put into political practice, is care rationality, responsibility rationality or social reason. Independent of which words one uses, it has to do with the opposite of instrumental reason, that is, orientation towards others needs. The gender political platform is concerned with giving care rationality a larger area of validity. This is what female politicians, lawyers, economists and technicians should fight for, instead of subordinating themselves to instrumental rationality's ruling reason. The opposition against instrumental reason springs - slightly simplified - from the women's role in house- and care work. To retain this potential, shouldn't the strategy be to maximize - or at least hang on to - house- and care work, instead of automating and in the long run abolishing the reproductive tasks? And to socialize men, too, to this work?"

Tarja Cronberg raises the question, but does not conclude that housework should be expanded. Yet I think her treatment of care rationality is too simple. I, too, see positive opportunities in care rationality, opportunities which point forwards towards a new society. But if we hold on to the idea that "care rationality" grows out of a certain material and social position, we must look more closely at this position, and at what type of consciousness it creates. Women are meant to take care of the relations between people, meet needs, produce use value. The relationship between people - needs - use value must play a central role in the foundation for a new society. But today women do these tasks in a subordinate position. And this subordinate position is built into care rationality as it works today. The result is that women are expected to "sacrifice themselves", adjust to others demands, not to consider their own needs. Having their own needs, making their own demands, creates feelings of guilt in the women themselves and disapproval in their surroundings. Therefore women put forward their own needs and attempt to get control in a twisted and indirect way so it will not be seen through by themselves or others. Care rationality today is subservient and powerless, it makes no attempt to set its mark on society's foundation or culture.

Today's care rationality is a poor starting point for active, participating democracy, and for struggling for change. It easily becomes too narrow, privatized, near-sighted and adjusted to the social character of unpaid work as a "left-over category" or a trash bag for other sector's problems and unsolved tasks. Care rationality is therefore just as socially preserving as it is revolutionary. To "positively re-evaluate feminine values" is an answer to male dominance which only means ending up in the opposite ditch on the same road.

We can see the first germ of a "new" care rationality today in the consciousness which is growing in women in the working class and those closest to them in class. They have "a leg in each camp" - one in the home, one at work. They are moored in both the traditional care rationality and in the form of class consciousness which grows with taking part in production. They experience, on their own body and soul, one of the large social contradictions - the split between production and reproduction. For them there is neither a satisfactory alternative in "retiring" to the home and traditional care rationality nor in "pulling out" and becoming like men. Their strategy must be to heal the split. But that is not a matter of pasting the two halves together. Because this split is woven into the actual pattern of patriarchy and the capitalistic exploiter system. The strategy to heal the split becomes, therefore, revolutionary and rebellious in consequence. In this rebellion care rationality, too, has to change. It must be turned into a non-subordinate, non-adjusting care rationality - a care rationality which has made both social perspective and consideration for rights a part of itself. Only this kind of "new" care rationality can be the ruling consciousness in a society of free use value producers. 

The silent areas

Another reason why the women's perspective is so central in revolutionary strategy, is that it makes visible one of the challenges to socialistic theory which up till now has not been taken very seriously. The challenge lies in combining what we might call "the macro plane" ( the big decisions on the main direction for strategy) with "the micro plane": theories on social behavior in daily life, on conditions for equal interaction, reciprocal control, a non-alienating relationship between people. Because power relations are kept up, and renewed continually, through daily interaction between people.

The women's struggle and women's research have gradually brought forth a mass of knowledge about how women are met with underestimation, power tactics and being made invisible. Words like "power tactics" give a slightly wrong impression, because it sounds as though these things are being done consciously. But it is often a question of modes of behavior and rules of the game which are deeply rooted in the participants, and which they follow without being aware of it. In the book Interaction Ritual (1967) the American sociologist Erving Goffman describes how interaction between people is steered by a set of "traffic regulations" of which we are only aware when they are broken. One example of such a rule is that one is expected, during a conversation, to show that one is concerned with the contents of the conversation, and not with other aspects of the situation. Women's subordination to men is a part of the "traffic regulations of interaction". In practically all interaction between men and women the subordination of women is present as an un-mentioned (and often unconscious) premise. Fighting against oppression has to do also with becoming aware of, and changing, such "traffic regulations". This is often tiring and difficult, but necessary. It is also necessary in conjunction with other forms of oppression besides that between the sexes.

Raymond Williams points out that there is more than just ownership and power that upholds the structure of capitalistic society. He goes on to mention the Italian Marxist Gramsci's concept "hegemony", which has to do with the importance of cultural and social dominance, power over thoughts. This dominance is upheld and continued by force of habit, "truths" and modes of behavior learnt at an early age and strengthened time and again later in life. What people think and feel is to a great degree a re-creation of a deeply rooted social order, says Williams, a social order people often think they are fighting, and which they really are opposed to in important areas. The consequences of this must make themselves felt in shaping socialistic strategy (1989, p. 74):

"And if this is so, then again the tradition of Stalinism and the tradition of Fabianism (Fabianism was an English, reformist movement, author's comment) are equally irrelevant. Simply to capture state power and set about changing that hegemony by authoritarian redirection and manipulation involves either unacceptable repression or is in any case a radical underestimate of the real process of human change that has to occur. And Fabianism, with its administrative measures, its institutional reconstructions, does not even seem aware of this problem at all, or if it is, regards it as a problem of the "low level of consciousness" of what it calls the "uneducated" or, like Stalinism, the "masses". But this is the most crucial underestimate of the enemy. Can I put it in this way? I learned the experience of incorporation, I learned the reality of hegemony, I learned the saturating power of the structures of feeling of a given society, as much from my own mind and my own experience as from observing the lives of others. All through our lives, if we make the effort, we uncover layers of this kind of alien formation in ourselves, and deep in ourselves. So the recognition of it is a recognition of large elements in our own experience, which have to be - shall we say it? - defeated. But to defeat something like that in yourself, in your families, in your neighbors, in your friends, to defeat it involves something very different, it seems to me, from most traditional political strategies."

This "very different from most traditional political strategies" has seldom been made a theme for socialistic thought, and even more seldom for political action. But the women's struggle has uncovered and shown this to be a large, empty area in socialistic theory. One of the most important, and most difficult things, women have discovered, is that they are fighting an enemy which is found in their most intimate relations, in themselves, in language and in daily life. The Women's movement has worked to raise consciousness on this and develop strategies against it, as a necessary part of a comprehensive, political strategy.

One gets a striking illustration of this if one compares two books on revolution in Asia, both published in 1989, to each other. I have already referred to one of them, The Philippine Revolution by Sison/Werning. The other is We were making history, written by the Stree Shakti Sanghatana women's collective.

Sison/Werning's book is about what are usually seen as the big, important, questions (the women's struggle is, as mentioned, not even touched upon): an economic and political analysis of the Philippine society, the development of the major lines in the class struggle, building the communist party and guerrilla, the party's tactics in different phases of the struggle. Although the book has a biographical starting point, we don't get to know much about the person Jose Maria Sison. There are no people in the book. Workers and peasants are spoken of as "the basic masses". They never appear with a face. Neither does Sison himself. Instead, he holds out a placard of the revolutionary leader, who never doubts the movement or the cause, who never lets personal considerations count, who sees all personal questions as completely uninteresting, whether they concern himself or others.

But the personal is political. In one place he describes his hectic life and unending task in a given period. "I never had much time alone with Julie and our three small children." Well, no. But what about Julie Sison, also an outstanding activist in the revolutionary movement? If she were to tell her story from the same period, is it possible to imagine that the "personal" (among other things "our three small children") could be given so little space? Or would her story deal with how she fought a privatized and invisible fight to combine responsibility as a mother with political activity? How would she formulate the "major" questions? And would practice in daily life be as barren of political importance to her?

In We were making history, the book on the women who took part in the big, revolutionary Telangana revolt in the Hyderabad province of India at the end of the forties, we get the exact opposite of the picture Sison gives us. The authors themselves point out the reactions they got from friends who read the manuscript: they were surprised that the "big" and "public" questions were hardly touched upon in the women's story. There seemed to be a wide breach between the movement they had heard and read about on the one hand and the interviews which are presented in the book on the other hand. The authors' comment is that the women were hardly unaware of the "big" and "public" questions involved. But what so clearly appears in the women's stories, is the whole parallel area which absorbed so much of their work and attention. That was an area which lay outside of the movement's political field of vision, and therefore an area where the women had to fight alone, without a systematic political perspective. The women bore the double burden of a "private" (usually invisible) struggle woven into the "public". The Telangana book deals with the woman who gave birth to a child while she lived as an outlaw in the woods, and had to give the child away to avoid putting her comrades in danger. It deals with the woman who was accused of having a relationship to a man and therefore excluded from the Party, but who was taken back again because she had medical knowledge and was "worth more than a buffalo with milk". It deals with the woman who cooked for the rebels in the woods, and with the men who complained because she couldn't satisfy each individual's personal needs. And it deals with the pain and shock the women experienced, when they, as a matter of course, were sent back to the family and kitchen when the armed revolt was called off.

It is the invisible, "private" struggle, which becomes visible in the book on the Telangana revolt. And the women's angle on what they are telling us about the movement and their own role in it, has a lot to do with the relations between people, with responsibility and care, with being appreciated and not being appreciated, more than with the important and difficult tasks they carried out. Their stories illustrate how the rebels maintain important structures from the society which they are fighting against, through habit, behavior, emotions and forms of interaction, which they never question. The women don't challenge all this politically. But it appears as despair, anger, personal experiences and problems they had to fight alone.

Beneath Sison's book there lies, in the reality of the Philippine revolution, a Telangana book. But Sison's perspective, perception of reality and language, keep out this part of reality. A large, political area simply disappears. Therefore this part of reality cannot have consequences for the "big" and "public" questions he treats. In this case Sison is just a striking example of a common phenomenon in all revolutionary movements. It is Sison's perspective which counts, often to such a degree that it is not possible to see that it is a perspective, it just is.

The authors of the Telangana book say (p. 30):

"Our understanding of socialism too might be more penetrating and less abstract if we understood it thus from below, looking at its secret languages, its silences, its un-articulated values, its points of focus as well as the dissonances in its cognitive style, perhaps even the needs and desires it still nourishes, the substratum of fear and ambition it draws on. To what extent have these broken from the largely feudal molds into which we are set? And when these are broken, what do we have to replace them?"

Sison's silent areas tell us, perhaps, as much about the revolution's and socialism's problems and opportunities as all the 240 pages of his book put together. It is possible to shatter this silence through the women's struggle and the women's perspective. It is necessary, not just for women, but in order to develop a comprehensive theory and practice for liberation. 

Gender and class

"In the family the man is the bourgeoisie, the woman the proletariat," Engels said. Few women in the working class movement would be able to use a metaphor like this without suffering for it. Within the organizations of the workers movement class solidarity and the importance of sticking together against the bourgeoisie has been the first commandment. Comparing the relationship between man and women in the family with the relationship between the worker and the class enemy would be considered almost blasphemous if it had come from anyone less important than Engels.

Socialistic theory and politics have first and foremost dealt with classes: with the exploitation of classes, the oppression of classes and with class struggle. Other oppressive relations, such as the oppression of women, would dissolve when the working class was liberated from the yoke of capitalism. The abolishment of the oppression of women would be a sort of positive result of the working class' revolution. The most sensible thing women could do, therefore, was to back up the class without considering gender. "The mighty, united wave" would also bring liberation to women.

It is, of course, true that women, too, are split into classes with opposing interests. Classes are not something men have invented to split women, as Robin Morgan states (1985, p. 19). It is also true that men and women in the oppressed classes have a common enemy to fight against. At the same time, the fact that class- and women's oppression are woven together, is a characteristic of the system in capitalism. Men and women stand in different positions in relation to this system. A truly revolutionary struggle must be directed against the whole interwoven system. In that case women cannot fight "without considering gender", exclusively as a class. They have to fight on the basis of a political platform where gender and class are as interwoven as they are in the real world. And they must demand that men in the oppressed classes adhere to this platform.

The bourgeoisie as a class gain by the oppression of women. But that does not mean that the oppression of women will disappear if only power and control over the means of production is wrenched from the bourgeoisie. The indirect exploitation of women's unpaid work can serve different economic formations. The Stalinist planned economy is one example. In Stalin's huge effort to build up heavy industry women's unpaid work in the home and family was an enormous, invisible factor. The same thing was true of the other Eastern European countries. (See Scott, 1976.) Resources went to heavy industry at the expense of light industry which produces goods for consumption. This meant that women had to compensate for the lack of goods with their own work. They had to do housework in cumbrous housing with low standards. They had to make what couldn't be bought. And they spent eons of time in queues.

Women's unpaid work has been considered something beyond economy. It has been made invisible and therefore, in practice, treated like something infinite. The same attitude can be seen towards nature, both in capitalistic societies and in societies with a centralized planned economy (See Steigan, 1990). We live in times when nature is "retaliating" and women revolt.

Women's revolt has to be part of a larger context - the oppressed and exploited classes' revolt. But the women's revolt can't just be yet another piece stuck onto the whole, where this "special social group" makes its particular demands. The struggle to abolish the oppression of women must be built into what one might call the revolutionary strategy's "infrastructure": which creates the foundation and lays down the premises for development. Unless this happens, the modern day version of the plantation owners on Sumatra will still be sitting pretty.


Table of contents | AKP home page | More pages in English