The roots of women’s oppression

Sozialistische Organisation Solidaritaet, the German section of the CWI, is publishing a new edition of the influential book, The Creation of Patriarchy by Gerda Lerner, first printed in 1986. Below is the introduction to the new edition, written by CHRISTINE THOMAS.

The Creation of Patriarchy is a useful contribution to the discussion about women’s oppression historically and today. Although Gerda Lerner says very little on the strategies that will be needed to fight against oppression in all its forms, a major weakness in the book, she nevertheless provides valuable historical information to aid that struggle, especially for socialist feminists who see oppression rooted in economic and material change.

The general thrust of her argument, in line with the analysis in Friedrich Engels’ book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, is that women’s oppression has not existed for all time but is the consequence of historical processes. And if historical processes can bring about women’s oppression, they can also lay the basis for its elimination. For women, and working-class women in particular, struggling with low pay and cuts to public services, suffering violence, harassment and sexism on a regular basis, knowing that it’s not your fault, that it hasn’t always been like this, can in itself be liberating – the starting point for getting organised to fight back and change the conditions that perpetuate inequality, gender violence, sexism and oppression.

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Was Stalinism inevitable?

The recent death of Mikhail Gorbachev has posed again the question, how did Stalinism triumph? MIKE WHALE reviews a searching account of Russia in the mid-1920s as Stalinism developed as a system of bureaucratic rule.

Was There An Alternative? 1923-1927

By Vadim Z Rogovin

Published by Mehring Books, 2021

Vadim Rogovin was a Russian Marxist historian who died in 1998. His book, Was There An Alternative?, is part of a seven volume series which examine the development of Stalinism in the Soviet Union and the opposition to Stalinism from genuine Marxists, particularly Leon Trotsky. With access to records and archives hidden away by Joseph Stalin and his successors that only became available as the Soviet Union was collapsing in the late 1980s, Rogovin brings significant new detail to add to our understanding of how and why the democratic workers’ state created by the Russian revolution in 1917 degenerated into a monstrous dictatorship.

Recently, there have been a significant number of books and articles written by pro-capitalist historians and commentators that attempt to argue that Stalin’s dictatorship was an inevitable outcome of the Russian revolution itself. Rogovin shows that nothing could be further from the truth.

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Unemployed struggles echo through time

Law and Authority, Under the Heal of Kensington Bumbles

Dreadnought Publishers, 1922

Reviewed by Jim Horton

Law and Authority was published one hundred years ago. The exact date is unknown, but the pamphlet was deposited at the British Library on 28 October 1922, two days after parliament had been dissolved following a Tory rebellion which had ousted Lloyd George’s coalition government after years of social and industrial unrest.

Three years earlier, in October 1919, Montague and Mabel Channell and their five young children were made homeless. On the day of their eviction the whole family paraded Fleet Street with a placard highlighting their plight, a photo of which featured on the back page of the Daily Herald, a socialist newspaper edited by George Lansbury.

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The nuclear threat in the new era

For over seventy years the major world powers have had the capacity to wipe out humanity in a nuclear conflagration. So what were the factors that held them back from nuclear war in the past? And do they still apply in the new period in world relations that has opened up with the Russian invasion of Ukraine? CLIVE HEEMSKERK contributes to the debate.

The tenth five-yearly review conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), held in New York this August, opened to a sombre warning from the secretary general of the United Nations (UN), António Guterres.

Speaking of the most perilous situation since the cold war, he told the assembled representatives of the 191 UN member states who are signatories to the NPT that the world could be “just one miscalculation away from nuclear annihilation”.

“We have been extraordinarily lucky so far”, Guterres went on, but “luck is not a strategy. Nor is it a shield from geopolitical tensions boiling over into nuclear conflict”.

Such comments will deepen the understandable fears about the future of the planet, of young people in particular. To the threat of catastrophic climate change is added the risk of nuclear accidents – dramatized by the recent events around the Zaporizhzhia power plant in Ukraine – and premonitions of nuclear war.

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The class war in Britain

The September meeting of the Socialist Party’s national committee discussed many facets of the class struggle gathering pace in Britain. Here we reproduce edited extracts on the monarchy, strike tactics and the Enough is Enough campaign from the introduction to the discussion made by the Socialist Party general secretary, HANNAH SELL.

For a moment the rising tide of class struggle in Britain was interrupted by the period of mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth. Long planned by the ruling class, Operation London Bridge deluged the country in a tsunami of media coverage celebrating the monarchy. The aim of the capitalist establishment has undoubtedly been to create the same level of support for King Charles III as existed for his mother.

It is already clear that this will not succeed. A large part of the continued relative popularity of the monarchy was tied to the Queen, who over seventy years mainly managed to maintain the illusion that she was ‘above’ politics, and was associated with growth in working and middle-class living standards in the first decades of her reign.

However, while the monarchy has remained more popular than other institutions of British capitalism, support for it had already been hollowed out over recent decades. The latest figures from the National Centre for Social Research show the number who think it is ‘very’ or ‘quite important’ to have a monarchy has fallen to 55%, below 60% for the first time. At the same time their polling showed the highest ever level of support for the abolition of the monarchy at 25%; and at 31% among young people.

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Gorbachev: accidental architect of world change

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet Union’s last leader who died this August, left a truly historical legacy. Aiming to reform bureaucratic rule he helped unleash forces that led to the complete collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe. In an article first published in the March 2018 edition of Socialism Today (Issue No.216), PETER TAAFFE reviews a comprehensive study of Gorbachev’s life.

Gorbachev: His Life and Times

By William Taubman

Published by Simon & Schuster, 2017, £25

Mikhail Gorbachev was the gateman for the capitalist counter-revolution in the former Soviet Union (USSR) which liquidated the last elements of the planned economy, albeit managed and controlled by a bureaucratic, privileged elite. This resulted in an unprecedented collapse of the productive forces – science, technique and the organisation of labour – and, with this, the living standards of the masses in Russia and the other republics. Indeed, the economic catastrophe of Russia, the 15 republics of the former USSR, and Eastern Europe was greater than the capitalist crash and depression of the 1930s.

At the same time, it allowed the world capitalist class to conduct an unprecedented ideological campaign against the ideas of ‘socialism’, of collectivism and an alternative to the selfish profit-driven system. However, Gorbachev did not consciously set out to achieve this end, as this new biography makes clear. It was the consequence of his and others’ attempt at ‘reform’ from the top which unleashed forces from below he could not control and ended in the demise of the system they represented. We lived through the events recounted and some of our comrades, such as Clare Doyle and Rob Jones, witnessed them first hand, participating in some in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and Moscow respectively.

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Marxist Economics

Continuing our Introduction to Marxism series, STEVE SCORE looks at the economic processes that operate under capitalism, a system of cyclical crises and contradictions which defies rational planning to meet society’s needs.

We live in a world where historically undreamt-of wealth exists, where technology has been developed in a way that was only envisaged in science fiction, where enough food, shelter and the basics of life could be generated to satisfy the needs of every person on the planet.

Yet in this capitalist world a great many people suffer hunger, malnutrition and preventable disease, and can’t get clean water or decent housing. Even in the richest countries millions live in poverty and insecurity. It is also a world where the methods of capitalist production are unnecessarily destructive of the environment.  

Despite the aspirations of capitalist governments and hundreds of years of study by pro-capitalist economists it is crystal clear that they have no control over the economy and its repeated economic crises. Crisis is built into the DNA of capitalism.

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The 1962 Cuban missile crisis

The Other Missiles of October: Eisenhower, Kennedy and the Jupiters, 1957-1963

By Philip Nash, University of North Carolina Press, 1997

Reviewed by Alison Hill

The Cuban missile crisis that gripped the world sixty years ago in October 1962 is usually cited as the nearest the United States and the USSR ever came to nuclear war.

According to US propaganda what forced the Soviet climb-down was superior US military might and the negotiating skills of president John F Kennedy. This book sheds a bit more light on the period and debunks some of the myths.

It also reveals that the Peter Sellers film Dr Strangelove, released in 1964, wasn’t completely fiction. With the declassification of secret cold war documents, we are now able to read exchanges like these, about the siting of medium-range ballistic missiles:

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Heading for a general strike?

With even TV presenters talking about the possibilities of a general strike, things are definitely changing. HANNAH SELL looks at the historical experience of general strikes and the prospects for one of the most powerful weapons of the working class being on the agenda in Britain.

In Britain in 2017 just 33,000 workers took part in industrial action, the lowest level since records began in 1893. The numbers, at 39,000, were barely higher the following year. Against this background many on the left, including some who parted ways with the Socialist Party, turned away from the organised working class as the key force in the struggle to change society.

Now, in 2022, RMT general secretary Mick Lynch’s declaration that “the working class is back” is palpably true. The first national rail strike led to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) having a 700% increase in enquiries about how to join a trade union. Suddenly, the proud history of the working class in Britain is featured in the mainstream media for the first time in decades. The evening news has included references to the heroic revolutionary Chartist movement, to the 1926 general strike – the greatest show of strength to date by the British working class – and to 1972 when a general strike began to develop from below demanding the freeing of five London dock stewards jailed under the anti-union Industrial Relations Act.

Are we heading into events of a similar scale? Without doubt the workers’ movement is on an upward curve. Under the cover of the pandemic the government stopped collecting strike statistics, but it doesn’t require official confirmation to see that a major strike wave has begun.

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Next steps for South African workers’ movement

As we go to press a one-day national shutdown organised by the South African Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu) is about to begin. Called as a ‘National shutdown to defend the socio-economic interests of the working class’, Saftu held meetings of provincial shop stewards committees at the start of the month to prepare the action. Members of the Marxist Workers Party (CWI South Africa) distributed a leaflet at these assemblies, reprinted below, that analysed this important step and made proposals on the way forward.

The National Shutdown Saftu has called for 24 August represents potentially a very important step forward for the working class. It will be taking place under conditions that are significantly different from the previous largely unsuccessful Section 77 actions of October 2020 and February 2021.

What is even clearer now than then, is that the capitalist class worldwide has no solution to the crisis of their system, worsened by the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, other than to make the working class pay. Across the world, a new fighting mood has developed, with the working class on the march in their millions. In South Africa, communities are organising their own shut downs. The National Shut Down offers the opportunity to compress the energies of all these actions into a single movement of workers unity against the ANC government and the capitalist system.

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