Our Critique of the Perspective of Gender and Patriarchy of the Revolutionary Movement (Part 1)
In 2004, in the face of mounting critique from women’s organizations and activists regarding the space for the women’s question in the revolutionary agenda, there was an initiative from the revolutionary movement to have a dialogue (EPW November 6, 2004). One of the two banners at the venue declared “there can be no women’s liberation without the liberation of the working class”. Simplified it would read “no woman’s liberation without revolution”. The second banner read “no revolution without women”.
On apparent glance one may overlook the subtle change of words but the slogans should in actuality read “No revolution without the liberation of women” & “No liberation of women without revolution.” Any one slogan does not make sense without the other. Revolution is a process in which the fight against patriarchy and oppressive gender relations is integral to revolutionary social transformation. However, on this question, the approach of the revolutionary movement has inverted the Marxist-Leninist understanding of historical processes. Here the revolution has become a goal in itself, which once achieved, will automatically lead to the liberation of women.
On the contrary, it is in the process of the revolution that patriarchy, or for instance caste system has to be fought and it is through such struggles that the fate of the revolution would be decided. But, when one says “no woman’s liberation without revolution” & “no revolution without women”, what it ends up implying is that patriarchy is a question that can be addressed only when a certain revolution is achieved.
And till that happens, women cadres are expected to play an instrumental role towards making this revolution a success, instead of raising questions about the oppression they face as women as if that would be a distraction, a diversion from the need of the hour. Such an approach towards the idea of revolution indicates a disjunction between struggles, as if the struggle against patriarchy is not integral to the struggle for revolutionary social transformation.
This false disjunction – between everyday struggles and the larger question of revolution – has created a situation where it seems many questions raised for decades by women’s movement and activists regarding violence, marriage, divorce, sexuality, etc will only be addressed once the revolution is accomplished. It is precisely this disjunction of the women’s question being relegated to the background, from the larger question of revolution that we have been questioning in the last three years. What we contended with is a feudal-moralist patriarchal understanding that only serves to patronize women instead of addressing the varied questions that women’s movements have thrown up over the decades.
Far from the sense of revolution as a process, far from a sense of history as it has been shaped by various struggles, what we find is an instrumentalist approach towards this question that draws heavily from the prevalent common-sense steeped in feudal morality. We had outlined in our resignation notification some of the crucial aspects of the differences we had with such an understanding. The attempt here would be to elaborate and substantiate some of these aspects.
The character of patriarchy in the Indian subcontinent has been determined by its historical specificities and mode of production. Its foundation continues to be deeply seated on the bulwark of brahmanical feudalism which in turn is further bolstered by its nexus with imperialist big capital. Even a cursory understanding of the crucial significance of the control over women and women’s sexuality in maintaining the caste structure,shows how the question of patriarchy cannot be located outside the realms of dominant semi-feudal social relations determining the unequal power relations between the genders.
And therefore if the fight against semi-feudal land relations is rightly considered to be part of class struggle, then similarly, the fight for the liberation of women and the fight for the annihilation of caste, must be considered very much integral to class struggle. History is witness to the fact that the structures of caste or patriarchy have never existed without challenges to the same.Marxism teaches us to look at society in motion.
Moribund capital, that is capital in the age of imperialism, only promotes inverted ideas and values of freedom or choice through market. At this stage, capital has lost its progressive and democratic character and exists in alliance with feudalism. But, as Marxist-Leninists, it is important for us to make a conceptual distinction between bourgeois values/morality promoted by moribund capital and the progressive democratic values/morality emerging from democratic struggles against the structures of caste or patriarchy.
It is important for us to recognize that in our context, our consciousness is not simply shaped by the cocktail of feudal and bourgeois values/morality alone, but also by the democratic and progressive values carved out through various struggles –from the Tebhaga and Telangana revolts to the Naxalite movement, various working class struggles, women’s movement, dalit movements, the LGBTIQ movement, nationality struggles, struggles of various individuals and so on.
Several demands that were unthinkable some decades ago have come up as a result of the space that these movements have carved out. However, there is a persistent reluctance on the part of the revolutionary movement to recognize these developments over a period of history on the question of gender and patriarchy and engage with them which is reflective of ahistorical and a top down approach.
Without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement – Lenin.
But this lack of a sense of history and social relations in understanding gender, has made the revolutionary movement ill-equipped and rather ill-prepared on the questions of sexual violence and patriarchal oppression, to intervene or carve out its own space. Let us look at some of the writings and documented positions of various organizations that uphold MLM and revolutionary politics.
In a booklet titled “Revolutionary Women’s Movement in India” which summarizes the experiences of the Nari Mukti Sangh and how they have fought various problems faced by women; after briefly elaborating the history of the struggles of adivasi women in Jharkhand and NMS’s interventions on various other issues, its analysis on the question of sexual violence starts with the following lines
– “Sexual harassment and rape incidents have come down in NMS areas. When a rape incident occurs NMS conducts a Jan Adalat. They enquire and if they find the boy is from a poor family and has come under the influence of imperialist culture of TV, cinemas and if he accepts his crime, he is warned severely and let off.”
(Revolutionary Women’s Movement in India, New Vistas Publications, p. 31).
Once again, the reasons for sexual violence are seen in the “realms of consciousness” determined by “imperialist culture of TV and cinemas” (something repeated ad-nauseum in various writings). It not only leads to perpetrators of rape being let off just with a “severe warning”, but more fundamentally it is reflective of a complete distortion of the causes of sexual violence. This vociferous critique of imperialist culture in fact comes dangerously close to a reactionary understanding that an alien evil (in this case imperialist culture) is corrupting an otherwise homogenous and idyllic society and thereby giving rise to sexual violence.
When it comes to the urban context, the notion of “imperialist culture” leading to violence against women gets an even greater emphasis, as its effects are perceived to be greater among petty-bourgeois sections. Consider for example, a statement in Hindi brought out by RDF in October 2013 on the case of a journalist who faced sexual assault by TarunTejpal. The statement after initial condemnations comes down to the following analysis –
“Globalization and neo-liberalism has fast developed a model in which we can see the nexus of corporates, executives/legislatures, media and the imperialist forces. One of the main objects of this alliance is to showcase women in the market as ‘sex objects.’ This is imperialist culture which…has allied with the feudal brahminical culture. The rush for profit and incessant greed to amass wealth and power by the owners and editors of the various media houses, in the garb of journalism, democracy, culture, modernity, lifestyles etc, is in reality presenting this same imperialist culture, which in turn is creating a frightening situation for women and the rest of the society alike.”
Sexual violence rather than being seen as a crime of power is here only reduced to sex and lust. While those who see sexual violence as a crime of power embedded in unequal social relations would demand the democratization of all spaces from the home to the work place, this kind of analysis ends up promoting male protectionism and victim blaming.
Therefore, going by the logic of their analysis women who because of their “false consciousness” adhere to what is being propagated in the garb of “life styles/culture/modernity/democracy” and are working in the “corporate media houses” are in a way also made responsible for the violence they have faced. In placing the above criticism we are not calling for a celebration of the culture or consumerism promoted by imperialism, but pointing out that it becomes problematic when evoked crudely to explain the causes of sexual violence.
This understanding also creeps in the writings of the senior revolutionary leader late Comrade Anuradha Ghandhy. When asked in an interview, about the nature of oppression faced by urban women she replies that amongst other problems, “…the influence of imperialist culture is very great on urban women. Urban people are not only influenced by consumerism but are also victims of it, giving more importance to fashion and beauty products rather than human values. As a result of this imperialist culture, there is an environment of insecurity due to the atrocities and sexual abuse in urban areas.”(Selected Writings of Anuradha Ghandy, p. 276).
Right wing ideologues and leaders of parliamentary parties of all hues have often blamed the rise in sexual violence to the culture of TV, cinemas, fashion, beauty products, etc but when a movement fighting for a complete transformation of the present social order makes similar analysis it is a cause for great concern and alarm. When such questions were raised, what we heard in return was that we have no right to question or criticize someone of the stature of Anuradha Ghandhy.
The question is why? What is it that prevents us to raise certain concerns, certain criticisms? What frowns back at such questions is nothing but dogmatism. Marxist praxis has always evolved, through criticisms & counter-criticisms. Anuradha Ghandhy herself was one of the handful who began raising questions vis-à-vis a dogmatic understanding on the question of caste which at long last sharpened the MLM understanding on the same. It is rather ironical, that when we raise questions on some of her ideas regarding gender and patriarchy, some say we ought to be “purged”.
In last three years, all that we have demanded is a debate on these problematic understandings, but all that we faced were nothing but repeated efforts to delegitimize us in order to delegitimize the questions we raised. In the face of such brazen authoritarianism, finally on 21st November we were forced to tender our resignation (ironically) despite having a majority in both the Executive Committee & the General Body of the organization.
After eight days when the so called EC of DSU finally brought out a response to our resignation, instead of addressing any of the political questions and criticisms raised by us, quite expectedly it was a concoction of high rhetoric and heightened slander. If the idea was indeed to shield someone as they have claimed, then it would have been easier for us to do so by staying in the organization with an overwhelming majority. We resigned because we realized that there was no space anymore to constructively take this debate forward by staying within the organization. We publicly resigned knowing fully well that by doing so we were opening ourselves to a vicious backlash and malicious slander. And if the actions of the so-called EC of DSU and people in responsible positions in the past one week are anything to go by have only vindicated us.
Any debate on gender and patriarchy that seeks to question and challenge status quoist regressive understandings in the end is always reduced to personalized attacks, and slander is the chosen weapons in the hands of the patriarchal society and reactionary forces to delegitimize those raising questions. And, in this case it clearly dovetails the feudal-moralist understanding of the movement on the question of gender and patriarchy. But all the cacophony, high rhetoric, the whisper campaigns, the slanders and character assassination cannot bury the questions that we have raised. And we still hope that at long last the revolutionary movement would address these crucial questions that are so integrally linked to the cause of revolutionary social transformation and democratization of the society.
—– Anirban, Anubhav, Aswathi, Banojyotsna, Gogol, Priya Dharshini, Srirupa, Reyazul, Rubina, Ufaque, Umar