On patriarchy, coconuts, and feminism
First Worldism is a bag of dogmas that are uncritically accepted by most so-called revolutionaries today. In its most general form, First Worldism is the belief that there is a significant proletariat, a significant social base for revolution in the First World. It would be a mistake to think that First Worldism is simply about First World workers. There are many other ways that First Worldism is smuggled into the revolutionary movement. For example, one form of First Worldism looks to cobble together a stand-in proletariat from national minorities or oppressed nation populations in the First World. Yet another is to cobble together a stand-in proletariat from First World queers. Yet another is to try to cobble together a stand-in proletariat from First World women.These latter political lines are some of the last bastions of First Worldism. Perhaps because First Worldist organizations are dominated by men who want to do right by their women comrades, perhaps because of lingering guilt of male activists, perhaps because of identity politics, First Worldist feminism is considered sacrosanct. It is considered off limits even by those who might otherwise considered themselves “Third Worldists.” It is a strange “Third Worldism” that considers the majority of the First World population, First World women, to be so oppressed to be a revolutionary agent. So more and more First Worldists turn to First Worldist feminism and gender activism. First Worldism gets a second or third life. So First Worldism must die yet again. Only, this time, ever greater levels of farce that surrounds its demise.
How can First World women benefit by the patriarchal oppression of Third World women? Let’s explain it by imagining two, small islands. One island is called “Fiwo.” It has a male and a female on it, Jack and Jacky. The second island is called “Tiwo.” It has a male and a female on it, Pat and Patricia. Jack and Jacky both like coconuts. However, it is very difficult to get coconuts. Gathering Coconuts is hard work. Jack and Jacky happen to have a gun that washed up one day on their island. Jack and Jacky pay an armed visit to Tiwo. There, they threaten the population of Tiwo. “Ten coconuts a day or you will both die!” Pat and Patricia are forced to meet their demands. Pat gathers three coconuts, but then gets tired. Pat comes up with a plan. Since Tiwo has strong traditions that demand women must do what men say, Pat demands Patricia gather the remaining seven coconuts. After all, Pat says, “You must follow my commands. We can’t go against tradition.” Furthermore, Pat, being a male, is a bit larger than Patricia. He adds, “and if you don’t gather the seven, I will beat you.” In the face of so much pressure, Patricia relents. She spend her day gathering the seven coconuts for Jack and Jacky who then distribute the full ten coconuts evenly. Since Jack and Jacky do not have to spend their time gathering coconuts, they use their free time to hunt and gather. The standard of living of all the inhabitants of Fiwo increase because of the imperialist and patriarchal oppression of Tiwo. Even though Jacky is a women, she benefits from the imperialist and patriarchal oppression of another women, Patricia.
In this simple thought experiment, it is easy to see how a woman can benefit from the patriarchal oppression of another women. It should not be too difficult to imagine how a woman in an imperialist country can benefit not simply through economic oppression of a woman in the Third World, but also the patriarchal oppression of a woman in the Third World. It should be easy to see how women in the Third World are pressed into working some of the worst jobs, pressed into maintaining the domestic sphere in an unfair way, pressed sometimes into horrible marriages where they are forced to be slaves to their husbands, etc. And, this patriarchal oppression squeezes even more out of the Third World woman than economic oppression by itself. There is a extra value that is consumed by the First World population, both male and female, that is over and above what would be generated by the economic oppression of of Third World women by itself, above what would be generated if men and women in the Third World were equally exploited. This extra value can, in part, be accounted for by patriarchal oppression of the Third World working woman. This extra value can, in part, be account for by the patriarchal oppression of the Third World woman in the domestic sphere also.
This idea should not be that big a leap for those who are familiar with Maoist thinking. Imperialism created a divided world. Imperialism creates a group of wealthy countries at the expense of poor countries. The populations of the wealthy countries have so lavish a lifestyle that the revolutions in those countries are, as Lin Biao famously said, “delayed.” Maoists called these countries “the global city.” These countries are also called “the First World.” Imperialism also creates a group of poor countries, “the global countryside,” “the Third World.” Imperialism transfers wealth from the Third World in order to keep the First World happy. In order to maintain First World development, imperialism interrupts the development of these Third World economies. In order to continue exploiting the Third World for the benefit of the First World, imperialism imposes a unique mode of production, a kind of mal-development, onto the Third World. This is both a mode of production and a political order that combines the worst elements of capitalism with feudalism. The order that results is a fusion of capitalism and feudalism that rejects the progressive, developmental aspects of capitalism. It is a comprador capitalism that does not bring progressive development that benefits the Third World combined with feudal aspects of production and political control. The most barbaric aspects of capitalism are combined with the barbarism of feudalism in order to keep value flowing from the Third World to the First World.
One aspect of feudalism is extreme patriarchy. Historically, feudalism is bound up with a gender apartheid where women are valued much lower than men. The feudal order justifies itself by reference to the family. Feudal lords are seen as father figures whose rule is as natural, it is said, as that of the father over the family. Women and children are often seen as property of the father. This extreme patriarchy is a pillar of semi-feudalism just as it is of traditional feudalism. Extreme patriarchy, as part of semi-feudalism, is propped up and sustained by imperialism. Thus this extreme patriarchy is imposed on the Third World for the benefit of the First World. It should not be hard to see how patriarchal oppression of women in one part of the world can benefit men and women in another part of the world. The brutality that women face in the Third World is part of a global system that provides a lavish lifestyle to people in the First World. Both men and women in the First World have their life options increased by the restriction of life options in the Third World. In this way, we can see how these ideas are not completely alien to the Maoist tradition. In fact, we could even say that this view of gender is implied by Maoist theory, even if it took Leading Light to unpack it.
Most so-called Marxists are no different than liberals when it comes to gender. Although they claim they uphold “proletarian feminism,” the reality is they merely repeat the talking points of liberals, of social democrats. Their feminism is one that looks at the world from the standpoint of the woman in the First World. They then take the outlook and condition of the First World woman to be universal. Just as they mistakenly believe First World men to be their enemy, they see the main enemy of Third World women to be Third World men. They grossly exaggerate the importance of the relatively small gender skirmishes between the First World genders. Then they go on to project their own condition onto the Third World. They claim there is no First World nor Third World women. They claim there is only women. And all women look like themselves, related to the world as they do, should share their interests, etc. And, when women of the Third World do not share their outlook, as they so often do not, First Worldist feminists think Third World women are deeply confused. First Worldist feminism, often masquerading as “proletarian feminism,” takes on the paternalist role of telling Third World women they are backward and in need of education. In its worst form, this is why First Worldist feminists support imperialist wars that target Third World peoples. Imperialists bomb Third World men and women for their own good, so the First Worldist feminist says.
Real proletarian feminism rejects this First Worldist dogma. Real proletarian feminism looks at the world through the eyes of the vast majority of women, the poor masses of the Third World. It is a feminism that understands that what Lenin called “the divide in the working class” is mirrored in the female population globally. There is no reason to simply assume that all women are equally oppressed by patriarchy. There is no reason to assume that women are all oppressed in the same ways. There is no reason to assume that some women cannot benefit from patriarchy just as some workers benefit from capitalism-imperialism. First World women benefit from the oppression of Third World women just as First World workers benefit from the economic oppression of Third World workers. Proletarian feminism understands that life options of First World women are increased often by the restriction of life options for Third World women. Real proletarian feminism, just as real global class analysis, is a guide to what Mao called the “first question” of revolution: “Who are our enemies? Who are our friends?”