Saturday, April 10, 2010

Communist women in conference

Report on the seminar of Communist and Workers’ Parties on the 100th Celebration of International Women’s Day: The Role of Communists in the Struggle for the Parity and Emancipation of Women.

by Daphne Liddle
New Communist Party of Britain delegate at the seminar

HOW CAN communists work most effectively to achieve parity and freedom for women? That is the question that delegates from some 27 communist and workers’ parties debated in a chamber in the European Parliament building in Brussels on 27th March, at the same time as a debate in the main chamber debated what help would, or would not, be given to Greece to resolve that country’s economic plight.

But the same global economic crisis and its consequences dominated the discussions in both chambers. And Greece figured large in both debates. But while the weakness of Greece’s bourgeois government and its ability to resolve the economic crisis dominated the debate in the main chamber, in the smaller chamber it was the strength and vitality of the Greek Communist Party (KKE) that enabled the debate in the smaller chamber to happen.

The Seminar of Communist and Workers’ Parties to mark and celebrate the 100th International Women’s Day was organised and funded by the KKE, with local logistical support from the Belgian Workers’ Party (Partie du Travail Belgique, PTB).

Delegations came from the former Soviet republics of Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and Russia as well as Hungary and the Czech Republic. They also came from Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Spain, Cyprus, Iran, France, Portugal, Ireland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Britain and of course Greece and Belgium.

The Cuban ambassador to the EU, Senor Rodriguez, dropped in to convey his government’s good wishes to the seminar and representatives from the Pole de Renaissance Communiste en France were special guests.

Parties from Cuba, the Philippines and Brazil were unable to attend but sent written contributions. A couple of intended delegates failed to get visas, reflecting EU bureaucratic obstruction. Most delegates were women, many of them from high elected office in their own parties and countries. But a couple – those from Hungary and Belarus – were men, reflecting the common view of all these parties that women’s equality is a class issue rather than a gender issue and is of equal concern to male communists.

The seminar was opened with an address from Aleka Papariga, the general secretary of the KKE. She began by reminding the seminar that 100 years ago the second International Conference of socialist women had adopted the proposal of Clara Zetkin to celebrate 8th March every year as the anniversary of working women’s sacrifice on 8th March 1857 in New York.
Comrade Papariga said the anniversary was an opportune moment to evaluate the progress of women’s emancipation over the last century. And: “At the same time, it is urgent to discuss according to which strategy and tactic will we tackle with the deterioration of the women’s position under the conditions of the capitalist crisis, as a special issue and integral element of the life of the worker’s families of the working people in general.”

She pointed out that most of the advanced bourgeois countries have been forced – under pressure from the organised working class and from the great advances in women’s rights in socialist countries – to make some concessions to women’s right. This has led to official recognition of women’s equality in law, though not always implemented as it should be. Meanwhile women in some parts of Africa and Asia continue to suffer forms of oppression dating back one or two centuries. “This phenomenon marks the uneven development of capitalism and cannot be attributed to several cultural or traditional particularities of so-called patriarchism or androcracy,” she said.

But, Comrade Papariga said, the current crisis exposes the historical limits of the capitalist system and the rights of women and children are now deteriorating. “Nowadays, we are not witnessing only the abolition of our rights, or the deterioration of our life; we also face the danger of a dramatic increase in the gap between our contemporary needs and the situation that will be formed in the near future.”

She explained that although the role of the workers’ and people’s movements was to fight for socialism and that this, when attained, would be a giant advance for women’s rights, there is “no contradiction between the struggle for socialism on the one hand, and the urgent need to attract working, popular forces, both men and women to the organised class oriented struggle for their acute problems on the other.

“It has to do with the orientation, with the ability and the quality of the guidance so as to orient the daily struggle to the overthrowof monopolies state power, of the bourgeois political power in order for the people to become the owners of the wealth.”

She added: “The women’s question as a historical phenomenon constitutes a complex of economic, political and cultural inequalities and discriminations which are evident in all social relations including the relationships between the two genders and emanates from the class relations of exploitation.

“The founders of scientific socialism-communism, Marx and Engels, analysed the women’s question on its true basis; they proved its class nature, they showed its reflection in the legal, political, ideological, cultural superstructure ofevery exploitative socioeconomic system as well as the preconditions for its solution.

“The women’s question objectively constitutes part of the contemporary strategy against the crisis that will lead, even after its overcoming, to a slight recovery compared to the past, to a new cycle of crisis under the conditions of acute intra-imperialist rivalries.”

The KKE “refuted the EU misleading theories that gender equality means equality in all aspects of life. This position leads to the unjust and non-scientific equation of the productivity of both genders, to the underestimation of maternity and its needs. We revealed the lies that women themselves demand part-time and temporary employment and flexible working relations because they need time for their families.”

This is why the seminar used the term parity for women, rather than equality. It is because the bourgeois granting of exact equality, not taking into account women’s extra needs because of their roles as mothers and carers, still leaves them disadvantaged.

Comrade Papariga went on to give a history of the women’s struggle in modern Greece and a report of the 8th March big demonstration organised in Athens and many other towns and cities by the PAME Greek Women’s Federation. “These demonstrations turn a new page in the alliance of progressive labour and the women’s movement,” she said.

Nina Ostanina, delegate from the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (CPRF), a deputy in the Russian parliament, the State Duma, and central committee member of the CPRF spoke of Russia’s proud history of pioneering full equal rights for women. “The idea of equality between women and men in Russia was realised long ago; our Party on this day once again recalled that this wonderful holiday was obliged for its very existence to the great revolutionary woman, Clara Zetkin, and the Bolsheviks-Leninists, who committed the socialist revolution in distant 1917, for the first time realised in practice the idea of women’s equality in economical, social and political spheres.”

But although the equality in law remains, nowadays “most of the problems associated with discrimination against women are hidden and very difficult to be recognised by the authorities.”
“In the structure of Russia’s government there is no longer an institute, which would have been assigned responsibility for the fight against discrimination against women in all its forms,” Comrade Ostanina added.

She reported the efforts of the All-Russia Women’s Union “Hope of Russia”, initiated by women members of the CPRF faction in the State Duma, which makes itself a thorn in the flesh of the state power and sustains links with progressive women’s organisations around the world, in defiance of the government’s policy of sending its own tame stooges to international women’s meetings.

Comrade Ostanina also reported that communists in the State Duma have rejected the programme of anti-crisis measures “where in the ‘manual control’ mode it is supposed to bail out 295 particular companies, the owners of which are close to oligarchs and the money is allocated to major banks.”

The CPRF has submitted to the State Duma a draft for a federal law on state measures for state support for families with children during the crisis period.

Bumairam Utashevna Mamaslitova from the central committee of the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, who is an elected member of the Jogorku Kenesh (parliament) and chairs the Social Policy Committee, spoke of the social and economic problems caused to her country since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

She spoke of the rise of violence against women and their loss of equality. She has succeeded in getting a law passed in the parliament criminalising violence against women – but getting it implemented fully is still a work in hand.

Tskhondia Tsitsino from the United Communist Party of Georgia reported that her country is now the poorest country in Europe, with 40 per cent of families below the poverty line, with very high unemployment. The service sector has fared a little better and employs mostly women, leading to women being the breadwinners in many families.

It is a very patriarchal society and many women have emigrated but when they do they are often exploited even more than before. Trade unions are weak with a lack of experience in fighting capitalism. Now there are long hours – 12-hour shifts – no days off and very low pay.
There is a high rate of trafficking and sexual exploitation of women; hundreds of thousands of women are victims, forced into prostitution in conditions of virtual slavery.

Gyula Thurmer, president of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party reported: “Hungarian women have lost a lot during the last 20 years. They have lost not because they are women. They have lost because Hungarian workers have lost socialism and capitalists took over both political end economic power.”

He added that “capitalism has many times declared the principle of equal pay for equal work. But it did not realise it. The gap between the salaries of women and men is larger than in the socialist period. Generally, Hungarian women get 18 per cent less money for the same work.”
Comrade Thurmer reported that the whole Roma community and Roma women in particular are facing a very hard time: “Capitalism turned the Roma problem into an enormous social issue threatening Hungary with serious consequences. There are at least 800,000 of the Roma minority in Hungary. Capitalism created enormous problems for both Roma men and women. By the end of the socialist period 75 per cent of Roma men and 50 per cent of Roma women could find work. Today only 15 to 18 per cent of men have regular work, and only a miserable number of women can work.

“By the end of socialism 90 per cent of Roma girls and boys finished the eight classes of elementary school. The number of Roma girls in secondary schools was even higher than the number of Roma boys. Today only about 65 per cent of the Romas finish elementary school. The future seems to be worrying.”

Comrade Dr Marie Nassif-Debs of the Lebanese Communist Party outlined the problems the women’s movement faces in her country from its class and ethnic divisions.
She said: “Indeed the political regime in Lebanon is a class-infested regime, where the bourgeoisie holds the reins of power through its alliance with the residuals of political feudalism. In other words, the political feudal families have lost the economic and financial position as the owner of the lands and what and who was on it. But these families still exert political influence and feudalistic leadership without any materialistic control.

“This bourgeoisie hides behind a vertical division in society which allows its members to continue to exert their influence and to reproduce this fundamentally flawed and unjust system. What we mean by the vertical division is the sectarian and religious divisions that render Lebanon a group of fiefdoms and princedoms and makes its political system like a confederate union between 18 sects that constitute Lebanon. And at the forefront are the six main sects (that is the Maronites, Roman Orthodox and Roman Catholic sects for Christians; and Sunnis, Shias and Druze sects for Muslims).

“The sects in general do distinguish between males and females and do discriminate against women and even between one female and another. In this context the sects have one thing in common: they all agree on the subordinate, inferior role of women in society, albeit to varying extents. They also agree on denying women any leadership role to the various sectarian authorities, especially in the political sphere and within the decision-making circles.”

Comrade Nassif-Debs’ friend, Hanad Badwa of the Syrian Communist Party and a civil engineer, spoke of a very different situation in her country – next door to Lebanon.
Syria still boasts the culture and traditions of the progressive but short-lived United Arab Republic that included Nasser’s Egypt and is now governed by a Baathist-led popular front that includes the communists. Women there have achieved a much greater level of equality and respect.

Selam Gurkan, vice president of the Turkish Party of Labour (EMEP) delivered a harrowing report of the inequality and double exploitation of women in Turkey. Women mostly work in the unregistered sector, especially in agriculture. Being unregistered means they have no protection of labour laws. They are categorised as family workers, have no regulated working hours. They work from sunrise to sunset for very low w ages and are at risk from frequent accidents at work.
The Turkish government denies that it is being affected by the global crisis but unemployment is rising steadily and the wages and conditions of all workers but especially women are getting worse. Violence against women is also increasing.

“For the Kurdish woman, whose identity is despised, language forbidden, child, husband, brother killed, it is made impossible to exist in her own language and identity, to develop her culture, to access education, health and other public services in her mother tongue,” said Comrade Gurkan.
Lydie Neufcourt of the Belgian Workers’ Party reported the battle her party is fighting against huge job cuts that are hitting the service sector jobs where women workers predominate. She reported a 23 per cent wage gap in Belgium and low wages and fixed-term contracts predominate in the “feminised” sectors. Women are also forced into part-time jobs.
In particular she reported the current battle against the giant Carrefour supermarket chain against plans to cut 5,000 jobs.

Willy Berend of the New Communist Party of the Netherlands reported that the fight for women’s rights in her country had been hampered by the old, revisionist Netherlands Communist Party where bourgeois feminists had predominated.

“In a communist party, the struggle for emancipation of women should always be a part of the anti-capitalist struggle,” she said. “In the former Dutch Communist Party it became more a struggle from women against men and vice-versa, and the class struggle became less important. It changed into an emancipation party instead of a communist party. The party’s secretary even said a few years later that she never was a communist….

“The NCPN thinks a strong fight for emancipation of women means first of all strengthening the communist and workers’ parties. The anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist struggle is the best base for all forms of emancipation.”

The New Communist Party of Britain statement called for prioritising the battle for equal pay and universal high-quality childcare to give women economic independence.

There were many other experiences of the struggle reported and views expressed; Clara Zetkin and Fredrick Engels’ work, The Family, Private Property and the State were quoted many times. Many more informal discussions happened during the breaks, at the hotel, travelling to the EU conference centre and back and at a dinner provided by the PTB comrades on the evening before the seminar.

The New Worker, it seems, is well known and respected among the representatives of these communist and workers parties.

This is a continuing struggle but there are a lot of very good women and men comrades out there with clear heads and a sound Marxist-Leninist understanding of how to wage this part of the class struggle in many different circumstances and conditions. It was very encouraging.

photo: Greek communist leader Aleka Papariga opens the debate