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Interview of a Chinese Revolutionary Marxist on the recent political situation and the state of workers’ struggle

A1:The New York Times published an article recently about the radicalization of young chinese students. Do you witness the same trend ? How does it materialize for you locally ?

Ji Hengge:

First I should introduce the context of the article of New York Times. From May to July at 2018, As many as 89 workers who worked in Shenzhen Jasic(佳士) Technology Co., Ltd tried to established a Workers Union but not accepted by the official Pingshan(坪山) District Federation of Trade Unions, and most of them fired by the factory. These workers then protected in front of the gate of the Jasic and the police station in Pingshan, Shenzhen. And they also rush into the gate of Jasic factory and the police station, these activities let the event escalate and became a public event. Some workers arrested by the policeman. After that, some Maoist Left students and youth participated the protect and established a Solidarity Group to help these workers. Sometime there’s also people from other political tendencies participated in the solidarity active. From July to 23th August, these Maoist students and youth protected and lectured in street, communities, industrial areas, though the weather is so hot. In the morning of 24th August, all these Maoist students, youth and some workers in the Solidarity Group were arrested by the policeman, most of them were forced repatriation, but some of them, like Gu Jiayue(顾佳悦)(she were arrested in Beijing), Yue Xin(岳昕), Xu Zhongliang(徐忠良) and so on were imprisoned for trial. And before 24th August, an NGO named “Worker Empowerment”(劳动力) were closed down by the government and some member of this NGO were arrested because the government want to framed the movement as an event that support by the “overseas forces”, though they had no any real relationships with this event. Although there were not so many Maoist Left students (about 30-50 people) in the scene and most workers in Jasic factory were no action, it was so remarkable in the oppressive environment of China. So the Jasic event can reported by many foreign medias, and leads to discussions about the radicalization of young students in China.

For now it’s only sufficient to say that a small portion of young students have been radicalized, but young students as a whole haven’t. Some media have reported that young Chinese students are undergoing a widespread radicalization. Labor scholar Pun Ngai(潘毅) based in Hong Kong have also exaggerated the radicalization of young students recently when she talked about Jasic events. In China, the majority of young students are indifferent to politics, they care more about getting higher score at school, securing a job, and obtaining scholarship, and so on.

However, the authorities’ tightening authoritarianism on politics and culture, on one hand made more and more students disappointed, especially after they amended the Constitution in 2018, but the majority of students haven’t reached the degree of “radicalized”; on the other hand, it drove the polarization of the ideological trends of society:

One pole is students who oppose the establishment. Their number is gradually increasing. Leftist Maoist is their mainstream, and their number have grown ten times more comparing to 2012. (We call Maoists who support the CPC, see “the contradiction between Chinese nation and foreign imperialists” as main contradiction, or think today’s China is “still socialist”, rightist Maoists; and Maoists who oppose the authorities, and think of “contradiction of classes” as the main contradiction, leftist Maoists). The other pole includes nationalists, and most of liberals: they both oppose radical transformation. Although most liberals advocate the slogan, “against the establishment, for democracy”, but they are repelled by revolution more than autocracy. Their current goal is merely counting on the power struggle inside the authorities to promote “political reform”, and to defend market economy and private ownership.

Leftist Maoists in China have been growing since the 1990s, but they remained small before 2012. In 2012, the fall of Bo Xilai (薄熙来)devastated rightist Maoists. Many people at the upper levels chose to support the new leader, while many others went astray. During this time, the once small leftist Maoists carried out propaganda actively, made many rightist Maoists youth give up on believing in “reforms inside of the party”, and adopted the standpoint of opposing the Establishment. Those leftist Maoist took over many kinds of “Marxist academic society” (“马克思主义学会”)or public welfare college associations which mainly serve workers as their main channels to carry out their work. They even turned many rightist Maoist societies into leftist Maoist societies.

Since liberals firmly oppose radical transformation and holds hostility to workers’ participation in radical transformation, while leftist Maoists shout slogans like “democracy”, “freedom of speech”, “fight against bureaucratism”, “social equality”, “serve workers and peasants”, leftist Maoism became very attractive to radical youth who oppose autocracy and seek equality, and is drawing more and more youth who care about politics and the society. Some political events in recent years are related to those leftist Maoist youths, such as the Maoist book club incident of Guangdong University of Technology (广东工业大学)in December 2017. We can see their presence in the #MeToo Movement in 2018. The Jasic events which caught international attentions are essentially guided by those Maoist youths. Since September 2018, Maoist student organizations at Peking University(北京大学), Renmin University of China(中国人民大学), Nanjing University(南京大学) and some other universities have launched a movement to stop the university office shutting down and deregistering their societies. But in general, those leftist Maoist youth are still a very small portion of young students. Although they had caught more attentions because they took an active part in those public incidents, their activists won’t be more than a few hundred in the whole of China.

Trotskyism, despite being marginalized by Maoists, is getting more space for propaganda because of the tendency of a small portion of young people toward radicalization, and Trotskyists’ commitment to socialist democracy. In practical propaganda activity, Trotskyism can arouse young people’s sympathy more easily compare to Maoism, but due to Trotskyists’ small number and lack of strength, most radical Chinese youths do not have much chance to learn about Trotskyism. On the contrary, it’s easier to see articles written by Maoists that defame Trotskyism.

Besides, other ideological trends are also supported by radical youth, such as feminism, LGBT liberation, etc. These trends have broken through academia and became a radical political movement and turned around to push the radicalization of some youth. For example, the #MeToo movement got many students’ support and sympathy. But the main stream of these trends have a tendency to ignore class struggle, such as when most feminists’ emphasis on sexual difference and men’s original sin but overlook the question of class struggle.

A2: Do you see a radicalization within the workers movement as well ?

Ji Hengge:

The labor movement in the Mainland hasn’t shown tendencies of widespread radicalization for the time being. In general, most of strikes were spontaneous, fighting for pay rise, social security, worker’s compensation, and so on. As the economic crisis deepened from 2012 to 2016, many factories had gone bankrupt or moved to inland areas. Therefore, the number of strikes had gone up, but their demands were lowered comparing to the period before 2012. Most workers’ struggles was presented as fighting for economic demands like relocation compensation or social insurance contribution paid by the companies. It was hard to see the demand for a union. At that time, another feature was that many labor NGOs got involved in strikes. However, labor NGOs, especially those liberal ones, had fallen into the low tide after Zeng Feiyang(曾飞洋) got suppressed in 2016. Most of them reduced direct involvements in strikes, fell back and focused on community service. Some NGOs influenced by Maoism would advertise Maoism to active volunteers.

The real economy gradually recovered after 2016, so the workers’ demands also got higher. For that time, the most organized strike was the strikes of Walmart employees, which spread to a few provinces, lasted for months. In these Walmart strikes, the government worker unions wanted to calmed these strikes and the NGOs led and influenced by liberal labor scholars (although these scholars claimed they are “democratic socialists”, they firmly support a private ownership and have no any demands for nationalization and real welfare system) wanted to control these strikes that kept them away a radical struggle line, but many active workers had organized the Friendship Society(it like a miniature of independent worker union), these self-organized active workers even struggled with moderate liberal labor NGOs, mainstream labor scholars, and government unions.

But most of strikes hadn’t mentioned the demand for a union. The portion of strikes with the demand for a union or union democratization had become smaller comparing to 2009-2012. Even most of those unions founded during the strike waves of 2010 were hijacked by personnel from the government or the companies. During the strikes of tower crane operators in 2018, which spread across the whole country, strikers didn’t even know what a union is. Workers uses a Chinese online chat app called WeChat(微信) to do most of the organizing and communicating.

The struggle of Jasic workers in 2018 also brought up the demand for a union. Although advocates are the minorities of Jasic workers, those activists are still the few workers who have union consciousness in Mainland China. However, the majority of Jasic workers did not join in the struggle during the Jasic events. Only a few activists were fighting alone in the whole process. Hence, the company solved the problem by dismissing those activists. What’s more, after those activists were expelled, the company founded a union controlled by the government and the bosses through a formal voting procedure.

Beside the strikes of factory workers, shop assistants, couriers, tower crane operators, teamsters who are basically doing manual labor, and teachers’ strikes are relatively frequently seen in these years. That’s because of some local government has excessive fiscal debt, and unable to pay teachers’ salaries and welfare, or in some cases, teachers who was registered as casual laborer or contract laborer want to be enlisted into the civil servant system and get better treatment.

Other than that, the distribution of strikes as well as labor NGOs suggest that the coastal areas are hotter than inland areas. Cities like Shenzhen(深圳), Guangzhou(广州), and Dongguan(东莞) are the places where labor NGOs are located most densely, many strikes happen there. The city of Wuhan(武汉) in the central China has ten million population, with more than 5 million workers. It only has 1 labor NGO, which is operating poorly.

Overall, it’s not highly possible for workers to be radicalized in the near future. This has something to do with the tight totalitarian ruling approach adopted by the CPC. Since 2018, the authorities started once again to stress measures like Party organizations entering private enterprises or “union reform” in private enterprises. The goal is to take total control of workers’ activities in private enterprises, to cut off any possibility for other oppositions’ involvement of workers’ activities. Under this totalitarianism, most workers won’t be radicalized gradually. Instead, they may get radicalized rapidly in large scale when economic, political or military incidents occur. It also presented a significant challenge for revolutionary communists in China, i.e. it will be hard for us to get sufficient practical experience of labor movement in a long time.

A3: Do you see new links between the youth movement and the workers ?

Ji Hengge:

This kind of connections are mainly present in Maoist societies. Because they advocate the slogan “serve the people”, they emphasize the connections with underclass workers, especially industrial workers. The methods they chose to connect with workers are as varied as their factions.

One of the methods is to infiltrate into the All-China Federation of Trade Unions(中华全国总工会) and become one of its staff. But the outcome was not visible for the time being. And many Maoist activists were assimilated by the system, and became a bureaucrat of the establishment.

The second method is approaching underclass workers through public welfare activities such as voluntary medical consultation and voluntary art show, or labor research. Some would use labor NGOs as an intermediary, which is the most common method due to its convenience, but the propaganda and agitation effect among workers of this method is yet to be evaluated.

The third method is sending graduate groups to work in factories, immerse them into factories, so that they can introduce worker activists into their underground groups, and mobilize a strike to attract more workers. But this method doesn’t seek to establish a stable trade union or other kinds of worker organization. It’s a kind of guerrilla warfare: a group would move to another factory after the strike.

The recent Jasic events presented a new method, i.e. voicing support for protesting workers. There had been rightist Maoists voicing support for workers before. Although it had been rare to see leftist Maoists using this method, it did cause relatively bigger social influence this time. However, despite the determination and courage showed by those leftist Maoists youths who supported workers at the scene, their flaws are also exposed:

1) The characters of far-left adventurism, sectarianism, and bureaucratic ultimatism; For instance, they caused direct conflicts with the instrument of power like the police and state security without considering their own weakness: only a few dozen people participated in the action and then exposed their organization network. The CPC is very strict about organized political activities. Besides, they didn’t fall back when the sighs of suppression was shown, which is when the police had sent the supporters’ parents to persuade them, on the contrary, they still claimed to be “the victor”; If some participant had different opinion about the situation or strategy, they would criticize him or her for “not being supportive for the workers”, and even called them “spy” in some cases. They often refused leftist youth of other factions to join the voice support activities in the name of “safety concern”.

2) They put “strategy” above principle in their declarations. They wrote their declarations like oaths of loyalty to the CPC leadership hoping to reduce political risk and obtain support from rightist Maoists. They put the hope of defending workers’ right in the CPC leadership rather than workers themselves in those declarations, even though most participants of the support group do not support the CPC in their heart.

The above two points hindered their strength, and dispirited liberals and many other leftist youths. Even the majority of Jasic workers didn’t show their support for the protest. The result is that the protest failed, worker activists got heavier repression, and a labor NGO which didn’t have much to do with the protest was shut down.

The CPC had started to notice these links between students and workers, so they have smashed some leftist college societies. For example, they suppressed the Maoist society of Guangdong University of Technology in November 2017, and arrested their activists. They suppressed and interrogated Zhiyuan Society(致远社) of Nanjing Agricultural University (南京农业大学)in 2017. After the Jasic events of 2018, they hindered the annual registration of Maoist societies of Peking University, Renmin University of China and Nanjing University, and put their activists under surveillance. The CPC leadership would think that those leftist students may walk the path that they themselves had walked in the 1920s, and become a threat to the regime, so they hope to suffocate their program in the cradle.

A4: Do you see a new interest in the works of Trotsky ?

Ji Hengge:

Some writings of Trotsky have been published openly since 1990, such as Literature and Revolution; Stalin–An Appraisal of the Man and his Influence; My Life, which is the most widely published and sold one with many translation versions. In recent years, Trotsky on Chinese Revolution, Trotsky on Anti-Fascism, Trotsky Recounts the October Revolution, which collected and translated by Shi Yongqin(施用勤), and the History of the Russian Revolution translated by Ding Duben( 丁笃本) have been published. And Problems of Everyday Life translated by Shi Yongqin haven’t been published. Books like Selected Works of Trotsky and Selected Writings of Trotsky, collected and translated by official scholars, had been published during 2006-2012. Besides works of Trotsky’s, three-volume biography of Trotsky by Isaac Deutscher got published in 1992, and republished in 2013.

For the number of publications, biography was the best seller. The History of the Russian Revolution wasn’t so bad, but other political works were very hard to sell. It reflects the fact that most people are reading Trotsky’s works out of curiosity about Russian history rather than political causes. And some people bought them for academic purposes.

Besides publications, The Chinese Marxists Internet Archive ( organized translation projects for many writings of Trotsky’s. It helped to spread Trotsky’s works. But only those who were close to or already accepted Revolutionary Marxism would read them. Only a few people have interests in Trotsky’s works.

In Mainland China, Trotskyism is still on the margin of political trends of thought. “Anti-totalitarianism” such as The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System by Milovan Djilas, and George Orwell’s and Bukharin’s works were more popular. But the most welcomed are Friedrich August von Hayek’s works. In the eyes of official scholars and most intellectuals, the struggles between Trotsky and Stalin were just for supreme power. Most of them think that Trotsky and Stalin are both dictators inherently. “Socialist Democracy” that Trotsky talked about were just fancy words. He wouldn’t have been a lesser dictator than Stalin.

As for leftist Maoist youth, which are the mainstream of radical youth, most of them are still hostile to Trotskyism. They continued the utterance which the CPC used to criticize Trotskyism in the time of Stalin and Mao. Most radical youths accepted those slanders and misrepresentations, made by Maoists about Trotskyism, when they started to learn politics. This is a difficulty we have to face while doing propaganda.

A5: Is the youth organizing against oppression of minorities ?

Ji Hengge:

There is no sign of this for the time being. On the contrary, Islamophobia is very common among youth. It made many people acquiesced the authorities’ high-pressure policies in Xinjiang(新疆). Besides, many liberal youth oppose the national recognition policy adopted by the CPC. They even oppose nominal national autonomy, thinking that there should be only one “Chinese nation”. This is actually a kind of Han chauvinism(大汉族主义).

Ethnic minorities are rare to be seen in discussions of radical youths. Many leftist Maoist youth would sympathize with the Uyghurs(维吾尔族) under high pressure, but they seldom speak about it openly. There are two reasons: first, discussion about nationalitiesis strictly confined, it’s difficult to talk about them openly. Second, most Maoist youth do not support the right of self-determination, which is inherited from the time of Mao for there was no self-determination when he was in power.

Some religious Uyghur and Tibetan(藏族) people would hate Han Chinese(仇视汉族) for religious reasons or social polarization, but only a few people would like to start an independent nation. Among Uyghur and Tibetan intellectuals, those who support independence are usually in exile. Those who remain in China usually oppose independence. Many of them even support the CPC, for they think Xinjiang would be controlled by extreme Islamists while Tibet would return to unification of the state and the church easily without the CPC’s high-pressure policies. Some liberal intellectuals of those nations would advocate more autonomous and democratic rights for Xinjiang and Tibet.

Many young students even dare not to discuss politics due to high-pressure control in Xinjiang and Tibet, especially among Uyghur students, because snitches are so common that they would be persecuted or suppressed by the school or the government as soon as they talk about politics. For this reason, it’s hard to tell what’s on the minds of Uyghur and Tibetan youth.

Trotskyists are one of the few forces among radical leftists in China that supports the right of self-determination. We would strive to combat national oppression and Islamophobia, to promote solidarity of working class among all nations, at the same time, to propagate against extreme Islamism(极端伊斯兰主义), extreme Lamaism(极端喇嘛教主义) and discrimination against Han Chinese, despite the fact that few people accept these ideas in a China where Han chauvinism prevails. We hope for the chance to spread Revolutionary Marxism to those radical workers and youth of oppressed minorities. This is the important foundation of socialist movements in minorities like Uyghur and Tibetan.

November 15, 2018

Marxism and the Social Reproduction of Labor Exploring the roots of women’s oppression

By Lisa Luinenburg

When I became a mother four years ago, I began to feel my oppression as a woman in capitalist society more acutely. All of the endless demands on my time began to add up—the sleepless nights, the feedings, childcare, cooking, housework, errands and laundry around the clock. And then there were the demands at work—no paid maternity leave, the pressure to go back to work as soon as possible after giving birth, pumping in a bathroom. Don’t get me wrong, I love my kids and I love being a mother, but I began to think deeper. Have women always been oppressed? Where does my oppression as a woman stem from? And isn’t there a better way to do things that spreads out all the work that women do more evenly?

The book that has ultimately helped me the most to understand my own oppression as a woman is Marxism and Women’s Oppression by Lise Vogel. Originally written in 1983 and since updated, the book gives a comprehensive overview of the evolution of socialist feminist theory since the time of Marx and Engels. It delves into the debates between radical and socialist feminists in the 1960s and 1970s and ultimately offers a detailed explanation of a socialist feminist way of understanding women’s oppression—social reproduction theory. I would urge anyone who is interested in the subject to give Vogel’s book a close read for a deeper understanding of this important subject.

Before we delve into the origins of women’s oppression, let’s dispel a central myth in our society—that women have ALWAYS been oppressed. This viewpoint claims that women’s subordination is inevitable because it is a function of their biology or psychology. Eleanor Burke Leacock, a feminist anthropologist and Marxist wrote Myths of Male Dominance in 1981 and debunked this myth. Her research showed that male dominance results from the effects of colonization and participation in market relations in societies that were previously egalitarian, from developing inequality in societies where specialization of labor and production for exchange is undercutting the collective economy, and from data as viewed through a Western lens. At the same time, history shows that women have not always been oppressed. While their childbearing function has always remained the same, women’s social status has changed dramatically throughout history. The oppression of women is not rooted in our biology. The origins of women’s oppression are economic and social in character and the development of women’s oppression is intertwined with the transition from pre-class to class society.

Before the rise of class society, social production was organized communally and products shared equally, and the material basis for the exploitation of one group over another did not exist. The social status of women and men reflected the indispensable roles each played in the subsistence process, and gender and sexuality were often much more fluid categories than they are today. The change in women’s status developed along with the growing productivity of human labor based on agriculture, the domestication of animals, the rise of new divisions of labor, the private appropriation of an increasing social surplus, and the development of the possibility for some humans to prosper from the exploitation of the labor of others.

There are many different theories about the causes of women’s oppression that have been hotly debated by socialist and radical feminists since the 1960s. They have raised many questions which are not easily resolved (read Vogel for a comprehensive overview of these debates). Questions raised include: What is the nature of domestic labor? What is the purpose of the family? What is the meaning of patriarchy? Of reproduction? What is the relationship between imperialism and the family? Between sex and class oppression? Between women’s oppression and other forms of oppression (for example, racial oppression)?

Some theories, called dual systems theories, imply that women’s oppression comes from two distinct and autonomous systems, such as capitalism and patriarchy, the mode of production and the mode of reproduction, or the class system and the gender system. But these theories fail to explain how these systems are related.

On the other hand, socialist feminism starts from the assumption that there is a material root to women’s oppression, and that the family is a major terrain. Marx, Engels and other early socialist thinkers did write about the “woman-question,” but their theories were often inadequate or not fully developed and they were constrained by the social conventions and male-dominated ways of thinking of their time (read Vogel for a more in-depth analysis). At the same time, Engels made an important contribution in “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State” as he closely examined the way these three institutions actually co-developed and continue to sustain each other. They are a powerful 3-legged stool on which Capitalism stands.

Social reproduction theory considers two concepts of Marx’s work as a point of departure: labor-power and the reproduction of labor power. Basically, workers sell their labor power on the market as a commodity. Labor power is realized when workers produce something with a use-value, which may or may not be exchanged. But workers also suffer wear and tear and eventually die. They must renew themselves on both a daily (individual) and long-term (societal) basis—this is the reproduction of labor power.

There are three types of processes that make up the reproduction of labor power in class societies: daily activities, the maintenance of non-laborers (for example children, the sick, and the elderly), and biological/generational replacement.

It is also important to note that the reproduction of labor power can take place in many locations, such as labor camps or barracks, and through many different processes, such as replacing laborers through slavery or immigration. However, most capitalist societies primarily reproduce labor power through kin-based family units and through biological procreation. These heterosexual family norms are most often institutionalized in class-based societies. They are constantly reinforced and made to seem like they’ve been around forever, even though (as we have seen) this is not historically the case.

Women’s special role in the biological reproduction of labor rests on a capitalist contradiction—capitalists need women to have babies to reproduce the labor pool, but when women give birth, it temporarily decreases their ability to contribute both as direct producers and in daily maintenance activities. Men also have to spend more time maintaining women during this period of time, which means they are less able to spend time producing commodities. This cuts into the capitalists’ ability to accumulate even more profits.

Although this differential division of labor that surrounds a woman’s ability to bear children need only last for a short period of time surrounding her pregnancy, most societies assign these roles a more permanent status through the family structure. Families then become the site for the performance of the daily and generational replacement routines, and are usually legitimized by male domination and backed up by institutionalized structures of female oppression. This also helps explain why heteronormative forms of the family are institutionalized. Non-normative families, such as LGBTQI families, or people who don’t fit neatly into binary gender categories, such as trans women, are less likely to be directly engaged in the social reproduction of new workers. Thus, it profits the capitalist system to exclude these people from mainstream society.

The family system is the fundamental institution of class society that determines and maintains the specific character of the oppression of women. In the upper classes, women’s oppression stems from their role in passing property along to their heirs. In the lower classes, it stems from women’s role in the reproduction of labor. Thus, women can experience oppression across all classes, although on different levels.

Let’s return to the concept of labor for a moment. There are two types of labor in capitalist society: necessary labor, and surplus labor. Necessary labor is the labor needed to renew a worker so they can continue to work the next day (this can be on an individual or societal scale). For example, cooking food, taking care of children, or preparing for the next day’s work. When workers work for their capitalist bosses, part of their work during the day is necessary work (the work they do to earn wages). Workers need wages in order to buy the products of capitalism for their personal consumption and renew their labor. The other part of their work is surplus labor. This is the extra labor they are essentially doing for free—the labor the capitalists bosses appropriate for their own profit.

Necessary labor has two parts: the social component (the part that earns wages) and the domestic component (unpaid labor in the home). The domestic labor often takes the form of additional labor needed to make commodities purchased by the worker for their consumption at home useable. For example, if you buy food, you have to cook it before you can eat it. It can also include caring for people who are not part of the labor pool, such as childcare or care for the elderly who cannot work.

Because of the contradiction in women’s roles in the reproduction of labor power and the institutionalization of the family structure, men are often primarily responsible for earning the wages, while women become primarily responsible for domestic labor. In capitalist society, the realms of productive and domestic spheres become spacially, temporally, and institutionally isolated from each other.

The capitalist bosses are always looking for ways to decrease necessary labor so they can increase their surplus labor and maximize their profits. They can do this in several ways—through longer working hours, speed ups, or increasing worker productivity. There is also a tendency to decrease domestic labor, for instance by socializing education, or obtaining even more profits through outsourcing tasks such as child care to daycare centers, or laundry to laundromats. This also helps explain the drive to privatize education to gain even more profits for the ruling class.

It is important to note here that women also play an important role in production and have often worked outside of the home (both in the present and historically). But it is through their role in the reproduction of labor that their oppression arises. Family members who are not working and are maintained by the family wage also help make up a reserve army of labor that capitalists can draw on when they need more workers. In fact, it benefits capitalists to have women as a mobile workforce they can exploit on demand, and women entering the workforce doesn’t necessarily mean that a family’s circumstances or wages will improve. For example, capitalists can use this as an excuse to pay everyone lower wages if more members of a family are working (and the lower wages have historically gone to women and children). The entry of women in the workforce has also been a controversial topic in socialist feminist debate.

So now that we understand where women’s oppression comes from, what can we do about it? Domestic labor has often been a class battleground and working people strive to win the best conditions for their personal lives and the renewal of their labor. Historically, women have been incorporated into strikes even if they are not in the workforce, for example the women’s auxiliary in the 1934 Teamster’s strike in Minneapolis. Women also played a crucial role in the recent teacher’s strikes that took the nation by storm.

Efforts to organize and expand equality can also reveal the fundamentally exploitative character of capitalism while moving everyone towards a more equal footing. Social struggle, as we all know, is essential and many things we take for granted today, such as the 8-hour day or child labor laws, were won through hard struggle by the working class. Despite the family’s base for the exploitation and oppression of women, families can also have a protective aspect for the working class—they can be centers for organizing against exploitation and provide social ties and supports to working people.

It is important to recognize here that there are democratic demands that we can fight for now that can be achieved under capitalism. Social reproduction theory provides a useful lens for us to examine social struggles that are currently occurring in a context of capitalist crisis. When capitalism is in crisis, there is an extraordinary level of pressure on women to “return” to their “traditional” role in the home. I put “return” and “traditional” in quotes because for working class women and especially women of color, not to mention women who are not heterosexual or cis-gendered, this traditional family role is pure mythology. Being full time in the family home and playing a support role for the nuclear family is not a viable option. But the ideological and physical assaults are real. There are attacks on reproductive freedom. All the services which support women in exercising full autonomy over our own bodies are on the chopping block. Abortion certainly, but also sex education and birth control. Services which help mothers maintain themselves in the workplace, such as paid maternity leave, breastfeeding supports, and low-cost quality childcare are all under attack as part of Capitalism’s offensive against women, as are social support programs targeted towards women and children, such as SNAP, WIC, and Medicaid. Immigrant women, whether undocumented or refugees, are doubly oppressed, as they face super low wages and deportation of the head of the family household, and are barred access to social service programs due to their immigration status.

Sexual harassment, sexual assault and domestic violence are part of the same offensive, a conscious ruling class campaign to “put women in their place.” African American women and women of color have faced especially brutal levels of repression in this area and experience deeper layers of oppression as women because of their race. Socialist Action has always spoken out when women are under attack. We join the chorus welcoming the #MeToo movement and we join the protests against violent misogynists in power—from Trump to Kavanaugh and beyond. But we have a lens that others lack, which helps us explain where this entitlement and violence comes from. It is the violence of the capitalist system in crisis, desperately lashing out against women’s ability and right to function in the public sphere.

Socialist Action recognizes that the oppression of women and the oppression of LGBTQIA people are intertwined and we have always supported LGBTQIA liberation struggles. We have done so because we believe that everyone has the right to be fully who they are. Here too, social reproduction theory gives us additional insight into the nature of the oppression LGBTQIA people face. The normative and central role played by the heterosexual nuclear family unit under capitalism implies additional levels of oppression for those who fail to comply. It is important to affirm everyone’s unconditional right to be who they are, and to be free from discrimination, harassment, and violence because of their sex, sexuality, or gender.

At the same time that we support all of these important social struggles, we must also recognize that a true end to women’s oppression can only be achieved through a socialist society. Socialist society will give us the freedom to re-think and re-distribute labor, which is the only way to eliminate the material root of women’s oppression. The need for domestic labor will never go away, but socialist society will allow us to socialize domestic labor under worker’s control. It is interesting to think here about what will happen to the institution of the family under socialist society. Once the material basis for women’s oppression is gone, the family will also begin to naturally shift and take on new forms and shapes.

I would like to end with a quote from Vogel’s book (page 181-182): “Historical materialism poses the difficult question of simultaneously reducing and redistributing domestic labor in the course of transforming it into an integral component of social production in communist society. Just as in the socialist transition ‘the state is not “abolished”, it withers away’, so too, domestic labor must wither away…In the process the family in its particular historical form as a kin-based social unit for the reproduction of exploitable labour-power in class-society will also wither away—and with it both patriarchal family-relations and the oppression of women.”

This text was presented at the SA Educational Conference (Toronto) on November 16, 2018.

Welcome to Class War Canada!

by Barry Weisleder

At the threshold of winter, class conflict is heating up the Pan-Canadian landscape. Parliament rendered rotating strikes by the Canadian Union of Postal Workers illegal on November 27. Nonetheless, on December 1, thousands of members of allied unions and social movements picketed and blockaded postal facilities in over a dozen cities across the country. For ten hours no trucks entered or left the giant Gateway mail processing plant in Mississauga, which handles two-thirds of Canada’s mail. So far, unions have pledged over $5 million to CUPW for its constitutional challenge to Justin Trudeau’s strikebreaking law, and potentially for costs related to future protests. The possibility of more disruptive mass pickets, even a cross-country wildcat strike by postal workers, looms. Meanwhile, the one-day walkout by GM workers in Oshawa did not quell the anger of auto workers, their families, and employees in related industries, at the prospect of a massive plant closure within a year. Rumours of shut downs in the food sector in southern Ontario stoke fears of huge job losses and de-industrialization woes.

Add to this the brutal attacks on labour and low-wage workers by the arch-Conservative Doug Ford provincial government and it is evident that the elements for a major class confrontation seem to be accumulating.

On November 28 about one hundred people answered the call of the Workers’ Action Movement to protest at the doorstep of the Liberal Finance Minister’s constituency office in Toronto Centre. Speaking for Socialist Action, which helped to organize the event, I made the following remarks:

“Welcome to Class War Canada! Justin Trudeau, Doug Ford, General Motors, the Big Banks and Big Oil are stepping up their war on us all. For too long the working class has been fighting with our hands tied. This must change now.

Today, we are at Bill Morneau’s office on Parliament Street. How fitting! Parliament is the place where capitalist politicians pay lip service to civil rights, and where they trample those rights, like the right to strike and the right to free collective bargaining, at will.

How can you tell when a bourgeois politician is lying? When his lips are moving. The Liberals lied about the crisis in the post office. The crisis is about under staffing, forced overtime and gender pay inequality; it’s not about rotating strikes that brought these issues to public attention. They lied about Management’s willingness to negotiate. When the industry got a $10.7 billion bailout from Ottawa, the government and GM lied when they promised that GM would continue to produce vehicles in Oshawa through 2020. They lied about how the big banks and the rich would be forced to pay more taxes. The big 5 banks record billions in profit, while continuing to gouge their customers. Recently, Ottawa gave $16 billion in tax breaks to big business. They lie about protecting the environment and honouring Indigenous people’s rights, while they spend billions to buy a leaky, fifty-year-old Trans Mountain pipeline. They allow for-profit medical firms to implant untested devices in people that caused 1,400 deaths in Canada since 2008. That is the price for putting profits before people.

Sisters and brothers, the real disease is the profit system. The main culprit is corporate capitalism. That is what should be buried today, not the right to strike.

We are here to support postal workers, not to tell them what to do. But if they decide to defy an unjust law, we pledge to support them 100 per cent. If they boycott overtime, occupy plants and depots, and ask us to cross-picket postal facilities, we will support them 100 per cent.

When auto workers remind us that they built GM, that their labour created a century of fabulous private profits, we say they deserve good jobs and benefits. They, and we all, deserve a transportation industry with a green energy future. How? There is only one way to harness the resources needed to make that happen: Nationalize GM, without compensation, under workers’ control!

In Class War Canada it’s time to unchain the power of the working class. It’s time to turn our unions into weapons of class war, in the interests of the majority, both the organized and the not-yet-organized. It’s time for an emergency convention of the Ontario Federation of Labour to decide on a plan to remove Thug Ford and his P.C. pirates at Queen’s Park. If we don’t show leadership in the fight against the attacks on the poor, on women, on immigrants, on racialized minorities, on Indigenous people, then the racists and fascists will attract many of the angry and frustrated who are victims of decaying, crisis-wracked capitalism.

I urge everyone here to join the Workers’ Action Movement, to join Socialist Action, to fight for a Workers’ Government, and to settle for nothing less than a socialist revolution.”

GM shareholders get a boost. Workers get the boot.

by Gary Porter

On November 29, analysts making 12-month price forecasts for General Motors Co. projected $45.16 per share — an increase of almost 23 per cent over the current $36.76. This is great holiday news, if you are shareholder. That includes the GM Directors who receive 60 per cent of their compensation in stock options. It is critical, according to business schools, to tie the interests of your Directors to the interests of the shareholder owners. But the interests of the workers are not considered so tenderly.

The joyous forecast coincides with announced plans by the auto giant to halt production at five factories in North America and cut about 14,000 jobs in the company’s most significant restructuring since its bankruptcy and taxpayer bailout in 2008 by Stephen Harper and Barack Obama.

GM warned last summer that the trade war instigated by President Donald Trump could force job cuts in the United States. Trump was irate with GM, tweeting that he was “very disappointed” with the company and CEO Mary Barra for plans to idle plants in Ohio, Michigan and Maryland.

“Nothing being closed in Mexico & China. The U.S. saved General Motors, and this is the THANKS we get,” Trump wrote. But the Donald misses the point. Just like him, GM does what makes the most profit. It is moving to production of autonomous EV vehicles.

GM has a plan for the estimated $6 billion to be gleaned annually from the plant closures. The all-electric, fully automatic, no steering wheel, no-pedals version of The Bolt is supposed to be on public highways by 2019.

However, what the world really needs is non-polluting buses, street cars, trains and ships. Mass public transportation and shipping. Left to private, profit-motivated companies, the massive waste embodied in private cars will continue. GM makes more money that way. The only way to get the efficient public transportation systems we need is to nationalize the vehicle business and retool the existing hi-tech, modern plants. That way workers can be retrained, not scrapped. Workers know everything about building cars. They can manage the factories. The owners’ skill is in siphoning off profits and spiriting them away to low tax havens. We simply do not need that skill. Let’s throw the bosses on the scrap heap.

GM, over its history, has a long, very shabby, anti social record. It has been a leader in some pretty bad causes. They include: the fight against regulations to enforce auto safety for consumers, the battle against safety for its employees, and against environmental safety for the human race. GM led the resistance to greater fuel efficiency laws aimed at reducing greenhouse gasses emitted from engine exhaust pipes. Generations ago GM led a consortium that bought street car lines, ripped out the tracks, set up bus systems and sold them. It also bought the rights to an electric car and stifled it decades ago. GM, quite simply, is a capitalist corporation that operates exclusively for private profit. It has committed crime after crime to that end.

Under capitalism, the doctrine of individual ‘liberty’ asserts the absolute right of capitalists to make ‘free’ decisions about their property, entirely in their own interests, even when it throws thousands out of work, leaves children without support, and causes the collapse of whole communities. Their liberty is simply imposed on workers and their families without their consent.

What about our ‘liberty’ as workers? Up to November 27, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers conducted rotating strikes against Canada Post, a Crown Corporation, opposing management-imposed speed up, compulsory overtime and pay discrimination against rural, mostly female mail carriers. The Liberal Government of Justin Trudeau and the ‘opposition’ Conservative Party worked smoothly together to violate the workers’ ‘liberty’ to withdraw their labour, their right to free collective bargaining, including the right to strike, and ordered the workers to end their job actions or face stiff fines.

Bosses can impoverish thousands of workers, but workers can’t even slow down the mail, including the packages shipped by brutally low-wage employers like Amazon. Only the labour-based New Democratic Party spoke loudly against the move. NDP MPs walked out of the House of Commons in protest. So much for workers’ ‘liberty’.

The Conservative government in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, under Premier Doug Ford, a hard-right winger and scion of a rich family, has moved quickly since June 7 when it was elected. His Progressive Conservative Party attained 61% of the seats with only 40.5% of the votes cast in the first-past-the-post electoral system. The voter turnout was only 58 per cent.

Ford has stripped many rights and statutory benefits from Ontario workers, cancelled the planned increase to a $15/hour minimum wage, cut welfare increases and made disability benefits harder to obtain. Under his slogan “Ontario is Open for Business” he is forcing workers to labour under deteriorating wages, benefits and working conditions, fostering a level of desperation most convenient for the Walmart and Amazon tycoons. He seems to think he has every right to destroy the hard-won gains of workers.

But he says he can do nothing about the GM plant closures and accuses federal politicians and union leaders of peddling false hope to the workers.

UNIFOR, Canada’s largest private sector union with 315,000 members, represents about 25,000 autoworkers including the 2,500 in the GM Oshawa plant. Jerry Dias, UNIFOR President, demands that Trump and Trudeau impose a 40 per cent tariff on GM cars made in Mexico. His line is to support his Canadian members by imposing cuts on the lower paid Mexican workers. A spokesman for Trudeau said Dias’ proposal was not discussed with Trump.

Dias also says he may urge a mass autoworker walkout from all Canadian and US plants, but a United Auto Workers union spokesman in the US says his union has no such plans. Actually, a walkout is an excellent idea. But the American labour brass is even more ossified that its Canadian counterpart. The UAW still supports the capitalist Democratic Party instead of setting up an independent labour-based political party like the NDP, which the Canadian union bureaucrats dominate (although Dias and UNIFOR have backed the Liberal Party of late, with bitter results).

Dias’ proposals simply have no weight unless he gets the backing of the workers themselves. The leaders of UNIFOR like to parade as the workers’ saviours. This highly paid, privileged layer of union bureaucrats can make a big noise; however, they bargained away hard-won worker gains like equal pay and good pensions. They accept the so-called rights of the owners to do as they please and fear the power of a mobilized union rank and file.

In the end, it is only the mobilized rank and file that can force action by GM and by the capitalist politicians. Mobilizing the mass power of the auto workers and of other unions in solidarity can bring home the point that workers together can stop production, choke profits, and force boss concessions — instead of making concessions themselves.


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socialiste dans les rangs de Quebec Solidaire, , et ROBERT MCBRYDE, activiste de la justice

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