Friday, April 30, 2010

May Day

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Africa Before the Slave Trade

Medieval West African art at the British Museum

By Edwin Bentley

ALMOST a defining characteristic of humanity is our ability to justify and explain away our actions, however outrageous and harmful they may be. When money is involved, that ability has no limits. From the establishment of the first permanent Portuguese trading post in Elmina in what is now Ghana in 1471, Africa has continuously served as a place from which Europe can take out whatever it needs without any obligation to offer anything in return.

Africa was certainly very different from Europe, but those first European visitors had little interest in finding out about the totally unfamiliar, often frightening, always amazing cultures they encountered. Making money was, quite literally, the only concern. Africa offered huge possibilities for vast fortunes as capitalism replaced the old feudal order in Europe, and the merchant class became the powerbrokers of society.

The transatlantic slave trade developed as a huge international business. This was the trade that created from plantation agriculture in the Americas the capital needed to launch the Industrial Revolution in Britain.

The Atlantic slave trade in large part created racism as we know it today. Kwame Nkrumah emphasised that slavery was not born of racism: rather, racism was the consequence of slavery. Slavery as such was always an economic, not a racist, proposition. But because the European ruling class treated and used Africans as beasts of burden and commodities, they inevitably became less than worthy of respect in European eyes. Put simply, Africans were classified as savages because the European capitalists used them as savages.

In defence of the international slave trade, European apologists claimed that slavery benefited the Africans, who were said to be sunk in misery from which they were incapable of rising. The African was presented as fundamentally sub-human, in need of the white man, whom he always acknowledged to be his superior.

Direct European colonialism in Africa only started in the latter part of the 19th century, and the old arguments that had previously justified slavery were used to propagate the idea that Africa had to be brought under European rule because the Africans were incapable of ruling themselves and needed to be civilised. Europe was, in fact, supposed to be doing Africa a tremendous favour as British and French troops razed villages to the ground, hanged and shot anyone who resisted, and destroyed local economies to clear vast areas for the cultivation of export crops and the industrial exploitation of mineral resources!

When the British army marched into Benin City in Nigeria in 1897, to assert British rule by looting everything of value, hanging local rulers and burning every building, the greatest trophies stolen were hundreds of medieval bronze plaques (actually made of brass). These were sold off and dispersed throughout Europe, and a good number are at present in the British Museum. Not surprisingly, the colonial authorities refused to accept that these works of art could have been created by Africans, but the Benin bronzes have since become powerful
emblems of West African culture.

However well-known the “bronze” casts and sculptures of Benin may be, an earlier African civilization had mastered the art of perhaps even more impressive depictions of the human form. This was the Yoruba kingdom of Ife, which flourished as a powerful city-state from 800 AD onwards. Ife is still regarded as the spiritual home of the Yoruba people of present-day Nigeria, a place where their culture started. It is literally a meeting place between heaven and earth, in the same way that Christians and Jews will venerate Jerusalem. The founder of Ife, Oranmiyan, came to be venerated as a man-God and father of all Yoruba people.

By the time of the British military invasion and destruction of the West African states in the 1890s, Ife had long sunk into decline. It had been eclipsed by Benin and Oyo. But the city retained its spiritual and cultural importance, even though it had never had military power or a standing army. The king of Ife – known as the ooni – had precedence as custodian of Yoruba identity and also of the legitimacy of the kings of the Edo state of Benin, who were originally from Ife. However powerful they became in their own right, kings of Benin always paid tribute to the ooni, as did the Yoruba rulers of Oyo.

Ife was the centre of worship of the creator gods Oduduwa and Orishinla, and the city was surrounded by religious shrines and sacred groves in the forest. The whole life of Ife was dominated by the cult of the gods in which everyone participated. Human and animal sacrifice was practised. Clay figures were kept on the altars of religious shrines as reminders of sacrifices that had been offered to the gods. Some of these were of animals, such as sheep and goats, but a good number depicted human victims, often with ropes around their necks waiting to be strangled.

Ife was a monarchy, but the ooni was always answerable to the council of chiefs and elders. His main role was as a cultural and religious figure, descendant of Oranmiyan the founder. The court of the ooni provided employment for a very large number of craftsmen and artists, who were organised in trade guilds to preserve their skills. Trade was essential, as the source of wealth, even reaching out across the Sahara desert to the Mediterranean. Slavery was a feature of everyday life, but slaves were integrated into families and clans, and the children of slaves were free.

The current exhibition “Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa” at the British Museum is the first opportunity in this country to experience treasures drawn largely from Nigerian museums, and organised jointly with the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments. Anyone visiting this exhibition will seriously question the endlessly repeated statement that the Benin bronzes have to be kept in the British Museum because Africans are incapable of conserving their own patrimony.

The artistic heyday of Ife culture extended from the 11th to the 14th century, and the chief relics of this period are the many figures of the human form made of brass, copper, and terracotta. The style is completely life-like, and generally life-sized. The brass heads that figure so prominently in this exhibition were cast using the lost wax process. Firstly, the figure was carved out of wax. This was covered in soft clay, and then heated until the wax melted and could be poured out, leaving a clay mould. The craftsmen then repeatedly poured small amounts of molten brass into the clay mould, swirling it around to cover the inside with a uniform thin layer of metal. When it had all cooled, the clay was chipped away, leaving the hollow figure. Files and grinding stones were then used to put the finishing touches.

Anyone familiar with Benin metal work may come to the Ife exhibition expecting formal, almost caricatured human figures. But almost everything here is quite overwhelmingly naturalistic, the figures somehow filled with life and spirit. The finest sculptures of Greece and Rome amaze us with their anatomical exactness. But these African figures, whether of brass, copper, or terracotta, go one step further – they portray living, breathing human beings so perfectly that the viewer can understand the personality, the thoughts and the state of mind, of the subjects portrayed.

The first European study of the art of Ife was carried out at the beginning of the 20th century by the German archaeologist Leo Frobenius. Not surprisingly, with the racist attitudes of the time, Frobenius found it impossible to consider this as African art. At first, he thought that the work was Portuguese, and then came up with the theory that what he had found were relics of the land of Atlantis, rescued before it sunk beneath the waves! It was only with the excavation of eighteen metal figures in 1938 that the indigenous origin of Ife art became universally accepted.

Exquisite art can be enjoyed for its own sake, but the current exhibition at the British Museum also presents many aspects of the social and religious life of the city’s inhabitants. Readers of the New Worker will see much evidence of the structure of Ife society. The mere existence of these works of art testifies to a developed human society with plentiful supplies of food, extensive external trade, a centralised hierarchical administration and a profound sense of identity. Small details of daily life shed much light on our idea of medieval Africa – I was particularly fascinated by the fact that the roads of the city were paved with countless pieces of broken pottery, arranged in fishbone patterns like a mosaic. A section of this paving is on display here.

This exhibition can be enjoyed on so many levels; firstly, simply as great art. But it does even more urgently call our attention to the unsettling fact that civilisation is not simply European. The history of the world is more than just what white men did. This Yoruba art affirms the universality of human life, of the desire to explain and take control of our surroundings. Ife would have been a strange, apparently even barbaric society to European minds. But it was not inferior, simply very different. In Europe we rightly venerate the memory of the Greeks and the Romans, of Michelangelo and the Renaissance, and the science and technology of recent centuries. “The Kingdom of Ife: sculptures from West Africa” reminds us that we are also heirs of the human experience throughout the world. The Yoruba craftsmen of 800 years ago shared that same human life, and they had an extraordinary, perhaps unsurpassed, ability to preserve it for the future.

The exhibition “Kingdom of Ife” is at the British Museum until 6th June. Admission is £8. A very worthwhile audio visual guide with personal headphones is available for an additional £4.50. Allow at least two hours to see and appreciate everything.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

For Peace! No to Nato!

joint statement of communist and workers parties

In a context that is marked by an ever-deeper structural crisis of capitalism, by deeper exploitation of the workers and peoples, by inter-imperialist rivalries and by complex processes of realignment of forces on a world level, imperialism is embarking on new anti-democratic thrusts and militarist interventions, and is advancing with coercive solutions trying to perpetuate itself and defend its class interests.
The militarist offensive unleashed by the imperialist powers and by NATO has a global and multi-faceted nature.
Imperialist war is being intensified globally under the pretext of combat against terrorism. Imperialist blocs, like NATO, are being consolidated. The militarization of the European Union is being speeded up with the fraudulent adoption of the Lisbon Treaty that encompasses the concept of the European Union as NATO’s European pillar. There is an ongoing arms race and investment in new and deadlier weapons. Military spending reaches record levels, particularly in the U.S. and the European Union. NATO's areas of influence and imperialist military-strategic alliances, namely through the so-called “Partnership for peace” are being expanded in Asia, in the territory of the former Soviet Union, as well as in Africa.
The world-wide network of US and NATO-member countries' military bases is being expanded. Military forces are being deployed from Latin America to Africa; from the Middle East, Indian Ocean and Central Asia to Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and the Black Sea.
The occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq continues, whilst new military aggressions are being launched against various countries. Plots and interference continue in Latin America and in various countries of the African continent. Provocative maneuvers are multiplied, as in Lebanon. The Palestinian issue remains unsolved, likewise the issue of Western Sahara, while imperialist crimes continue with impunity. Provocations against the People's Republic of China, that the arms sales to Taiwan by the U.S. is a particularly serious example, and threats against countries such as Iran and Syria are being stepped up.
There are growing attacks against the sovereignty of States, notably with changes of borders, of which the self-proclamation of the independence of the Serbian province of Kosovo is a serious example. The International Law that emerged from the correlation of forces resulting from the defeat of Nazi-fascism in the Second World War is being seriously undermined and is the target of a process that aims its destruction.
In the name of “security” and the “war on terrorism” securitarian thrusts are revived; xenophobic nationalism and religious and cultural intolerance is being instigated; crimes against human rights, such as social, economic and democratic rights and the right to political and social participation and organization, are being committed; anti-Communist campaigns are being promoted and the forces that stand up against imperialism's offensive and defend the social and national rights of peoples, are persecuted.
The reality of the world at the beginning of the 21st Century belies the campaigns to rehabilitate the image of US imperialism which were undertaken with the election of Barack Obama. The nature and goals of US and NATO policies are clear: the control over natural and energy resources; control of technology; the expansion of markets; military and geo-strategic domination. In other words, a response, based on the use of force, to the relative weakening of the position of the USA in the international framework.
The rhetoric of “multilateralism” and “dialogue” is exposed by the war-mongering and interventionist policy of the US, the European Union and NATO, by the ongoing imperialist offensive and the real risk of new military conflicts, from the Middle East and Central Asia to Latin America. Despite the antagonisms between the USA and EU, both turn against the people’s social and national rights. War and aggression are but the other side of the coin of imperialist economic globalization, and NATO is a key player in its strategy of hegemonic domination and persecution of those forces and countries that stand up in opposition. NATO plays a central role in the militarization of international relations and in the arms race and is the main driving force of conflicts and tensions today. Alluding to «new global threats» - a concept that has replaced the old pretext of the «communist threat» - NATO imposes a large-scale escalation of wars and weapons – of which the war in Afghanistan is a key aspect.
NATO will hold a Summit in Portugal, this November. It seeks to renew its strategic concept, which represents a new and highly dangerous qualitative leap in that Organization's role, mission and goals.
With its new strategic concept, NATO seeks to put in its written doctrine that which is already a reality in practice: the geographic extension of its intervention and projection of force to the entire planet; the expansion of the nature of its missions to issues such as energy, environment, migrations and internal security of the States; to reaffirm itself as a nuclear military bloc, despite the rhetoric about nuclear disarmament, by envisaging the use of nuclear weapons in military attacks; to further develop the military-industrial complex and military research and demanding an increase in military expenditures from all its members; to include in its missions acts of direct interference and occupation, under the guise of peace-keeping missions; to profound the instrumentalization of the UN in order to pursue its purposes and strength its role as the armed arm of imperialism.
Imperialism appears to be all-powerful but it is not. As the facts are proving, the major threats arising from imperialism's force-based response to the crisis of capitalism are being confronted by the progressive and even revolutionary struggle of the peoples. In various parts of the world, the peoples are taking into their own hands the defense of their rights and of their countries' sovereignty and independence. They are resisting in the most diversified ways. They are imposing defeats to imperialism's strategy of domination.
In this context, expressing our profound conviction that, through the struggle it is possible to defeat the war-mongering and militaristic goals of NATO and build a future of peace, progress, social justice in which each people can freely decide on their own future, inseparable from the struggle for Socialism, we the Communist and Workers' Parties that are signatories to this statement:

 Demand an end to the arms race, nuclear disarmament beginning by the major nuclear powers in the world as is the case of the USA, elimination of all chemical and biological weapons and an end to foreign military bases.

 Call upon the workers and peoples of the whole world, on the popular and anti-imperialist forces, on the working-class movement and other social organizations to mobilize and strengthen their struggle, for peace, against war and NATO. We reaffirm our long-standing support for the peace movement. We congratulate the World Peace Council for its 60th anniversary and for its campaign against NATO.

 Declare our intention to mark the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazism and Fascism as an important day of struggle for peace and against the monumental historical distortion that attempts to erase the crucial role of Communists in the liberation of peoples from the yoke of Nazi-fascist and to equate Nazism with Communism.

 Reaffirm our solidarity with the peoples that resist imperialism’s occupations, aggressions and interference and that are waging difficult battles for their self-determination and independence, namely the peoples of the Middle East, like the Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian peoples, and Central Asia. We demand the immediate withdrawal of all the military forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and from all the other imperialist interventions around the world.

 Demand the dissolution of NATO and support the peoples’ sovereign right to decide on the disengagement of their countries from this aggressive alliance. We reaffirm our frontal opposition to the militarization of the European Union and its militarist and interventionist policy, to the expansion of NATO and to the deployment of the new US and NATO “anti-missile shield” in Romania and Bulgaria. We express our solidarity with the Cypriot people (Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots) in its struggle against the Turkish occupation and for the reunification of its homeland, for a just solution to the Cypriot issue.

 Demand an end to the provocations and interference in Latin America and Caribbean. We express our solidarity with Socialist Cuba and with the peoples, the political forces and national governments with a democratic, progressive, popular and anti-imperialist character, such as Bolivarian Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua. We demand the release of the five Cuban patriots unjustly imprisoned in the USA. We reiterate our support for the struggle of the people of Honduras for democracy and against the coup regime, so that the people may determine the future of their country. We demand the recall of the Fourth US Fleet deployed to South and Central America and the closing down of US military bases in the region, namely Guantanamo and the bases in Colombia. We denounce the USA’s military intervention in Haiti and we demand from the United Nations that the Haiti mission be civilian in nature. We demand that the actions of solidarity and cooperation with the Haitian people contribute to the strengthening of the independent national State and to the economic and social progress in the Country.

 Express our solidarity with the peoples of Africa in their struggle for the right to development and with the people of Western Sahara for their right to self-determination. We demand an end to imperialist interference and militarization of the continent, namely in Somalia and its shores, in the whole region of the Horn of Africa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sudan. We reaffirm our commitment to continue the struggle against the US military Command for the continent (AFRICOM).

 Express our support for the peace movement, the class-based trade union movement, the youth, women and other organizations which, in Portugal, are promoting the campaign for peace and against NATO. We pledge to do everything we can to support and mobilize for the actions of struggle against NATO and its new strategic concept which are scheduled for November of this year in Portugal.

The Parties:
• Portuguese Communist Party
• South African Communist Party
• Workers Party of Belgium
• Communist Party of Brazil
• Communist Party of Cuba
• Progressive Party for the Working People (AKEL)
• Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia
• Communist Party of Greece
• Communist Party of India (Marxist)
• Communist Party of India
• Lebanese Communist Party
• Communist Party of the Russian Federation
• Communist Party of Spain

• PADS Algeria
• Communist Party of Australia
• Workers Party of Bangladesh
• Communist Party of Bolivia
• Brasilian Communist Party
• Communist Party of Britain
• New Communist Party of Britain
• Communist Party in Denmark
• German Communist Party
• Hungarian Communist Workers Party
• Tudeh Party of Iran
• Iraqi Communist Party
• Communist Refoundation – Italy
• Party of the Italian Communists
• Communist Party of Luxembourg
• Party of the Communists of Mexico
• Popular Socialist Party of Mexico
• Communist Party of Norway
• Peruan Communist Party
• Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain

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