Break the Chains
Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!
Once again the development of the People’s War in Nepal is proving what has already
been shown in Peru and other revolutionary movements as well — the
tremendous unleashing of the revolutionary potential of women as
a mighty force for revolution. In both of these countries the masses
of the poor women, especially the poor peasantry which in both societies
make up the main revolutionary force led by the proletariat, have
astounded many observers by their massive outpouring of support
for the revolutionary cause. In example after example, the downtrodden
of yesterday are becoming the gravediggers of the reactionaries
and the builders of the future as women join the revolution in every
sphere of activity, taking part in guerrilla units or as leaders
of mass organisations and members and leaders of the vanguard party
There can be no doubt that this awakening of the women is
a great accomplishment of the proletarian revolutionary struggle.
Both the absolute numbers and the quality of the participation of
women is much greater in the proletarian revolution than in other
revolutionary and popular movements.
In today’s world all classes and political forces seek to
mobilise women behind their banner. This is another expression of
Lenin’s observation that in our era nothing is possible without
the masses. Indeed, the involvement of women in all people’s and
democratic movements is a striking feature of recent decades.
For example, in Sri Lanka the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
Elam (LTTE) have succeeded in bringing forward a large number of
women who have fought with remarkable valour in the battle against
the reactionary regime there. In Vietnam, Eritrea and Palestine
women played a strong role in the national liberation movements.
All of this goes to illustrate Marx’s point that how rooted the
revolutionary movement is among the people can be measured by the
degree of participation of women.
But there remains a difference, and a fundamental one at
that, between the kind of participation of women the LTTE or the
Palestinian resistance organisations have brought forward and that
found in revolutionary struggles which are led by a proletarian
party guided by proletarian ideology. The essential difference is
whether the movement itself is able to go beyond the threshold of
bourgeois democracy, whether it seeks only to bring about a capitalist
system based on the “free and equal” exchange of commodities, and
especially that most important commodity, labour power itself, or
whether the movement contains within it the seeds of a society that
puts an end to labour as a commodity and goes beyond the very division
The communist revolutionaries do not see women as simply more soldiers for the
people’s army or as a vast reservoir of labour. For communists,
the participation of women has everything to do with what kind of
a revolution they are waging. Frederick Engels in his famous work
Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State demonstrated
how the oppression of women arose with the division of primitive
society into classes and how the total emancipation of women is
completely inseparable from the aim of building a communist society
without class distinctions.
The storm centres of the world proletarian revolution have
been in the oppressed countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America
in the five decades since the end of World War II. This has also
meant that, in most countries, the revolution must necessarily pass
through a first, new democratic stage before advancing to the socialist
As we know, the new democratic revolution is itself bourgeois
democratic in so far as it has as its immediate goal the overthrow
of imperialism, feudalism and the domestic capital associated with
the former, rather than the overthrow of bourgeois relations. At
the same time the new democratic revolution led by the proletariat
helps to pave the way for a second, or socialist, stage once the
basic bourgeois democratic tasks have been accomplished.
The participation of women in the democratic revolution needs
to be examined in this light as well.
Women and Democracy
It has long been established that communists fight for all
democratic rights. And the equality of women is one of those important
democratic rights. But communists are also clear that democracy
has not and cannot resolve the problems of inequality and oppression.
Furthermore, the democracy of even the “freest” republic is always
limited and subordinated to the most important bourgeois freedom:
the freedom to exploit labour power, to make a profit. As long as
society remains divided into classes women will retain the overwhelming
responsibility for the upbringing of children and for household
work. As long as a social division exists between men and women
this will inevitably mean that women are unequal and subordinated
to men in many ways.
We have seen that even in bourgeois-democratic countries such as
the United States, France or the United Kingdom, the equality of
women has not been achieved. A quick glance at the parliaments,
the lists of the heads of states, or at corporate boardrooms in
these countries shows that men overwhelmingly dominate them. Despite
a general tendency for the equality of wages to be declared by law,
it is a well-established fact that wages for women are considerably
lower than for men with comparative levels of training and skill.
Furthermore, even in the imperialist countries there is a
marked tendency for the desperately poor to be made up of an increasingly
higher percentage of women. Late twentieth-century capitalism continues
along with its “two-tier” system in which a sizeable minority of
the population is ground down into shocking conditions of immiseration.
In so many cases this means families are headed by single mothers,
women are locked into very low-paying work or out of the job market
altogether and completely shackled to the drudgery of domestic work,
while faced with the task of bringing up children in desperate conditions.
Some Western sociologists have coined the term “feminisation of
poverty” to describe this phenomenon.
But the oppression of women cuts across class lines; in other
words, in class society women are oppressed generally, giving rise
to resistance and important movements among the women of various
social classes and strata in both the imperialist and oppressed
countries. Throughout the world women are confronted with variants
of patriarchy and male chauvinism, as well as the backward ideas
and practices that accompany them, rarely censured by and often
enshrined in bourgeois-democratic social institutions and laws.
Rebellious women who refuse the role that bourgeois society
has allotted them constitute an important stream of the mass resistance
against the ruling classes of these countries. The struggle against
the oppression of women thus brings new and powerful forces into
play which the proletarian vanguard needs to learn how to lead as
part of the overall struggle for revolution.
In the oppressed countries women are also among the biggest
victims of the intensification of exploitation that can be seen
throughout the world. In many countries the very conditions of impoverishment
are fuelling new rounds of industrialisation as imperialist capital
is drawn like a magnet to those countries where the desperation
of the people can be turned into a tidy profit. In Indonesia, China,
Bangladesh and Zaire reactionary regimes compete in a ghastly auction,
each offering the imperialists yet a lower price for access to new
pools of blood to suck dry in their factories and sweatshops. And
in country after country women are becoming a massive part of these
new armies of proletarians.
China itself, whose capitalist rulers have conducted probably
the most extreme, unrestricted and radical process of capitalist
development ever seen on earth, has provided literally millions
of young women and girls from the villages as fodder for the vast
“free trade zone” near Hong Kong. In Bangladesh, whole new legions
of proletarians, mainly women, have emerged in the last two decades
as the workforce in the garment industry has grown to over one million.
In the oppressed countries women are a particularly sharp victim
of the backwardness of feudalism, which has been maintained and
incorporated in the “modern world”. In the carpet industries of
Iran, India and other countries modern imperialism has found a cosy
reciprocal relationship using traditional forms of oppression as
women and children stay chained to their household looms to produce
for the world market. This is in part why a great many countries
of Asia, Africa and Latin America can best be described as “semi-feudal”.
There is thus a strong material basis for the outpouring
of women. Yet the attraction of women to the revolutionary struggle
cannot be explained by, or reduced to, only the immediate exploitation
of women at the hands of the reactionary classes as workers or peasants.
In addition to this, the masses of labouring women also bear the
burden of male domination and stifling social and religious practices
and institutions, which falls on women of the more privileged sections
Thousands of years of traditions’ chains weigh on women in
countless forms. In Afghanistan, the Islamic rulers have returned
to the medieval practice of literally locking women inside the house
and controlling their every movement, as one example of what has
come to be known as “gender apartheid”, an extreme case of the feudal
form of women’s oppression still so prevalent around the globe,
alongside mountains of religious superstition. The absolute tyranny
and control over women by male family members along with reactionary
practices woven into the fabric of the society are still a major
feature of life for a huge section of the world’s women. Take just
a few examples: the hated chador, female circumcision and
forced sterilisation, arranged marriages of children and men’s “ownership”
of children, dowry blackmail, wife-beating, men’s “right” to divorce
and to adultery, either of which is punishable by banishment or
death for millions of women.... Yet these conditions of oppression
are also giving rise to new waves of resistance.
In addition to these and other feudal or semi-feudal “traditions”,
women in the oppressed countries suffer alongside women in the “advanced”
countries from more “modern” forms of degradation, such as constant
sexual harassment of different types, plus pornography, prostitution,
and multiple forms of violence, including rape and physical abuse.
In many instances feudal and modern forms of oppression co-exist
or intermingle, keeping women in an inferior position. (Nor should
we forget that even some forms of the most backward ideological
expressions of subordinating women exist in the “advanced” countries
too — witness the growth of religious obscurantism in the US, where
fundamentalist Christians oppose abortion rights and demand a return
to traditional reactionary values in the home and in general.)
So women’s participation in the revolutionary struggle is
a vehicle for striking at the whole underpinning of women’s oppression
— the social relations which have developed since the emergence
of classes themselves — not just at the immediate capitalist or
landlord, or the state representing such class enemies.
Whether in the West or in the oppressed countries, women
cannot be considered a “marginalised” or incidental factor in the
class struggle. More and more it is clear that they are very much
concentrated at the centre of the process of exploitation and oppression.
And the inevitable corollary of this is that women are and will
increasingly be at the centre of the opposition to the system of
imperialism and reaction.
The class enemy has understood very clearly the revolutionary potential
of women and has taken significant steps not only to try to crush
it but also to try to channel it in such a way as to preserve and
protect the world imperialist system. For example, the imperialists,
who back the most evil and barbaric reactionaries, now shed crocodile
tears for the plight of women. They wage wars to preserve the sheikhs
of the Gulf (and their right to restore their harems, like in Kuwait
after the Gulf War) and aid regimes like El Salvador whose death
squads brutally raped and murdered Catholic nuns in 1980 (recently
revealed to have been known to top US officials in that country)
and the Taliban of Afghanistan, while they also direct their legions
of NGOs (so-called non-governmental organisations) to carry out
projects among women, including the rural and poor women in third
world countries. However laudable the motivation of some of the
fieldworkers in such projects might be, these programmes fit into
an overall plan of the imperialists themselves to harness the discontent
of women away from revolutionary struggle and into reformist schemes
and illusions of greater equality for them. But the fact that the
imperialists have directed so much of the attention of the NGOs
towards these strata is another indication of the important task
of fighting for the allegiance of women.
One of the great differences between the proletarian revolutionary
approach to the woman question and that of even the most radical
of bourgeois democrats is whether to consciously fan this stream
of rebellion or whether to constantly seek to restrict and narrow
the scope of the outpouring of women, to see them as a valuable
battering ram against the enemies but to fear their revolutionary
yearnings for a completely different society.
How many times have we heard the nationalists and bourgeois-democratic
revolutionaries claim that raising the woman question is “divisive”
to the struggle? But this is only true if the goal of the “struggle”
is itself seen as setting up a national structure complete with
exploiters and exploited, male chauvinism, patriarchy and a whole
host of other reactionary practices and thinking. And this policy
of fear of going “too far” inevitably also puts limits on how thoroughly
and effectively women will take part in even those revolutionary
activities which are “permitted”.
On the contrary, the proletarian revolutionaries welcome and nourish
the rebellion of women. For the proletarian revolutionaries, the
contradictions engendered by the active participation of women (that
is, resistance by men) are a necessary feature of the revolutionary
movement. Handling this correctly through education, criticism and
self-criticism, as well as promoting conscious struggle, including
the rebellion of women, against backward ideas and practices within
the revolutionary movement can lead to the advance of the whole
movement, both men and women. The contradiction between men and
women will not disappear by wishing it away or trying to dissolve
it into the general “struggle”, as the bourgeois forces and male
chauvinists would have it. Such an approach will only mean that
the participation of women is throttled and that sooner or later
their resistance will emerge in a way that may be less favourable
for the revolution.
Communists have been criticised by some feminists and others
for having an “ulterior motive” for involving women in the revolutionary
struggle. Communist revolutionaries recognise the vast potential
that exists among women, especially among the poor. Their fury is
indeed a mighty force for revolution, to be unleashed as part of
the unleashing of all of the masses against the reactionary system.
The “ulterior motive” to which we plead guilty is that communists
recognise that thorough-going participation of women in the revolutionary
movement today is one of the very important elements that will enable
the movement of today, where it has already reached the stage of
people’s war, such as in Peru or Nepal or where the all-out struggle
for power is still in preparation, to flower into the movement of
tomorrow, the socialist revolution, which will attack step by step
all old property relations and ideas and institutions based on them,
including, as an important focus of this, the oppression of women.
Socialism in China
In analysing the new democratic revolution, a necessary stage
through which the proletarian revolution must pass in the oppressed
countries that make up the bulk of the population on earth, Mao
Tse-tung stressed the existence of “socialist elements”. Indeed,
he insisted that the existence of these elements was one of the
key features that made this revolution new as opposed to
old democratic, which made it part of the world proletarian socialist
China itself illustrates very clearly the “two roads” that
are open for women. After the completion of the new democratic revolution
in 1949 the proletariat undertook the socialist revolution, waging
repeated battles against the remnants of the old society and fighting
off recurrent efforts by the those in the party who wanted to call
a halt to the revolution and set about building a capitalist society.
Throughout those decades of building socialism enormous strides
were made in mobilising women in all aspects of the struggle, in
fighting the old practices and ideas and bringing forth the new.
In the Cultural Revolution this process reached its high point when
hundreds of millions of people were involved in a life-and-death
battle to keep the revolution moving ahead toward communism. It
is well known that this great movement involved women in a way never
before seen. This was true among all sections of the people — revolutionary
intellectuals making up the Red Guard movement, workers and peasants.
It was reflected in the Party itself, including at the highest levels
where Comrade Chiang Ching played an historic role as one of the
principal leaders of the revolutionary headquarters inside the CCP.
And in the important arena of battle against old ideas, under her
leadership powerful works were created setting whole new standards
in reflecting the image and mission of the proletariat in the sphere
of art and culture. One of the very prominent features of these
works was the portrayal of strong revolutionary heroines.
As we know, the Cultural Revolution was eventually defeated by the
reactionary onslaught of Deng Xiao-ping and the treachery of Hua
Kuo-feng. Chiang Ching herself was singled out by the coup-makers
as the principal villain for her tireless struggle for the proletariat
and for the proletarian revolutionary line of Mao Tse-tung and accused
of using her power for purely personal ambitions. Put on trial in
1980, she courageously defended the red flag, admitting only to
the crime of making revolution and transformed the courtroom into
a trial of her accusers, Deng and Hua.
Old vs. New
And what is the situation for women in today’s China of restored
capitalism? Of course, some women, like some men, have benefited
from the pillage of the previous collective property of the people
or from the newly acquired freedom to exploit the workers and labouring
masses. But for the majority of women, restored capitalism has meant
re-enslavement, not just economically but both physically and socially
in the clutches of male domination, whether in the free trade zone
of Canton, in the villages which have again become a place of horror
and destitution for the great majority of rural dwellers, or in
the glittering cities of the new capitalist China. Ancient forms
of women’s oppression are reappearing like a sore all over the country.
Feudal and Confucian ideas about the inferiority of women have re-emerged
with a vengeance. Prostitution, which was eradicated in Mao’s China,
is the inevitable accompaniment to a society in which human labour
has again become a commodity to be bought and sold, where “to get
rich is glorious” as the Chinese rulers boast so shamelessly. Female
infanticide is so widespread that its cruel reality appears even
in population statistics. China has again become a hellish place
for the majority of women.
Thus we can see that for the masses of women as for society
as a whole, the question of “old democracy” versus “new democracy”
is no minor matter. It has everything to do with whether the common
feature of all hitherto existing class societies, exploitation and
with it the oppression of women, will continue or whether the long
and difficult road of creating entirely different relations between
men and women will be embarked upon. From Nepal today, just as from
Peru and other countries in revolutionary struggle, stories abound
of new fighters and leaders emerging from among the most oppressed
women, of those who yesterday were the scorned and ridiculed rising
to the requirements of being revolutionary heroines. Such women
will never be satisfied with a revolution that goes only part way,
and they will set powerful examples to others, testing the revolutionary
movement and its objectives.
With an eye to the future as well as to the present necessities
of the movement, proletarian revolutionaries wholeheartedly strive
to fulfil the slogan “Unleash the fury of women as a mighty force
for revolution!” As in any great revolutionary undertaking, the
proletarian vanguard will learn in the process as it obtains rich
new experience and overcomes new problems. As Mao said in his 1927
“Report on an Investigation of the Peasant Movement in Hunan”, it
is impossible to correct a wrong without exceeding “proper limits”.
This is strikingly true of the situation today when the cause of
revolution demands that millions of women break all the chains,
including those of tradition and male supremacy, hampering their
Correct and vigorous implementation of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism
on this question by any communist party and organisation is bound
to bring many women forward as revolutionary leaders and fighters.
Guided by Marxism-Leninism-Maoism, the stand and practice of the
Revolutionary Internationalist Movement and the parties and organisations
that make it up have opened the door wide for such development.
Yet we cannot be complacent, as there is a great deal more to be
done to fully mobilise women in the revolutionary struggle. Today’s
progress is just a beginning, just the first act in the unfolding
of a great drama that will surely astound the sceptics as women
are aroused and unleashed to destroy that which is putrid in this
world and start building brick by brick the new one.