Latin America: the possibilities of radical, feminist and antimilitarist politics against patriarchy and capitalism
Article in The Broken Rifle No 87, December 2010 as part of the a Latin America special issue.
By Adriana Castaño
The journey of women in the depths of left-wing political movements and mixed social organisations has had to endure a long struggle. The story of the presence of women with ideas for the transformation of the patriarchal culture, has for a long time been subjected to the achievement of “more wide and important ideals”, and arguments that these “particular” claims should wait, otherwise it would imply the division of the struggle that was forging towards “social and political revolution” which required the unity of the popular movement. Those proposals and revolutions have been and are “Revolutions of men that believe that everything can be revolutionised except the life of women. They are the revolutions in which the revolutionaries annul and create constitutions, but they continue subduing half of humanity, women, just as feminist, anarchist, Chilean women workers said at the beginning of the 20th century”.1
During the first decade of the 21st century, this argument hasn’t disappeared from social organisations’ political practice nor from the antimilitarist organisations and associations, with libertarian proposals of a mixed nature. It seems that being feminist and antimilitarist involves an automatic division. What sustains this argument? In general is equality quite a debatable liberal principle. Are men and women the same? Are antimilitarist women and men exempt from the patriarchal culture? Does the fact of belonging to an association or organisation that claims to be antimilitarist make men and women equal? Latin America has in the past had proposals for antimilitarist coordination. Taking these questions as a starting point, it is necessary that any proposal for a network, a meeting, or a collective project set up in Latin America recognises that no emancipation project is possible if it doesn’t include the total liberation of half of humanity: women. This single step would allow a starting point at an important place, within a struggle which doesn’t just include this matter, but treats it as one of the basic consensuses for political action.
In that antimilitarist struggle, not only must we question the cost of the military, and the whole of the war industry and war itself, but also the values that support it. However, opposition to patriarchal values hasn’t been strong. Men see themselves obliged or seduced by war as a way of life and/or an affirmation of masculinity, and it is this affirmation of masculinity which creates the extension and justification of the discrimination, subordination and violence suffered by women, both during peacetime and during war.
Broadening our struggle as feminists and antimilitarists involves disclosing the social and cultural phenomena which may seem normal aspects of our societies, “hidden” but fully validated and which affect women in particular (girls, young women and adults): discrimination, exclusion, sexual violence, forced motherhood, sexual exploitation, pornography, human trafficking, domestication, emotional relationships and feminine sexuality, at the service of and under the control of men who hold power based on the use of force, violence and intimidation.
At the same time it is necessary to point out that the capitalist system and the categorisation of social classes is relevant for our history of Latin America and this awareness is necessary for the struggle for emancipation. Yet the radical struggle against capitalism is repeatedly branded as anachronistic whilst social movements and institutions prioritise public policies as a field in which to carry out claims and not transformations and to include historically marginalised groups. The anti-capitalist struggle must show that capitalism deeply embodies the values of patriarchy, that it works and feeds upon women’s unpaid housework, that it wreaks havoc in women’s lives when it exploits their bodies in the advertising and pornography industries, and in human trade. It must recognise that the history of Latin America is marked by the colonisation which isn’t yet over and where the values of domination and exclusion that mark the bodies and lives of women still exist.
We must therefore ask ourselves how we can counteract the dominant discourse, which leads us to ignore our history of struggle, and to feel that the pragmatic world is the way forward, that ideologies don’t exist, that our struggle only exists in the economic field and that opposition is the same whether against a left-wing or a right-wing government and that both types of government are the same thing, because real socialism was a failure. Building our dreams and radicalising an anti-capitalist struggle implies challenging the dominant, colonising, racist culture and not postponing transformations, especially those in which the State isn’t required to mediate. Racism, sexism, male chauvinism, lesbophobia, homophobia and the dominant “common sense” are part of our everyday communities and this is what must be revolutionised.
People take on the struggle for their territory, they defend their history and their way of living in harmony with natural resources, opposing the expropriation and depredation of those resources. However, in order to build the world which we dream of, free of wars and violence, we must observe the various forms of oppression and exploitation and how these affect not only the bodies of warriors, but also the bodies of millions of exploited women in textile factories, in the pornography industry and in human trade, in obsequious domestication and in the experience of subordination and suffering as part of emotional-sexual relations.
One of the main challenges is to put aside the analysis where we put to one side the struggle of women, Native Americans and children. Dividing up the struggle and dividing up the oppressed in order to try to find them a place in states and within official human rights categories, all this does is recycle the system. Destroying the domination system implies recognising the historic domination of our people marked by the rootlessness and dispossession of colonisation, which imposed on our America a racist dominance, the legalisation of the plundering of natural resources and the annihilation of natives, imposing on us a single vision of the world. At the same time it implies recognising that this imperial company led to forced mixing of races in many areas based on sexual violence carried out on black and Native American women.
Colonialism didn’t end with independence, it continues and is recycled in capitalist globalisation which favours militarism as the method to expropriate territories and create their energy reservoirs, to guarantee control over natural resources and food, to maintain private property and to establish with more strength their hegemony discourse in all cultures: the defence of the family, the control over sexuality, domestication, servility and fear.
This disastrous system is incompatible with our aspirations as antimilitarists and feminists. As Maria Mies said: Starting by recognising that patriarchy and accumulation at a global scale constitute the structural and ideological framework within which women’s reality must be understood, the feminist movement worldwide must challenge this referential framework, together with a sexual framework and the international division of work, to which they are linked. (Mies, 1986 : 3)
Radicalising our struggle is inevitable as long as this exploitation and domination system’s wish to take over all common goods is a radical one, annihilating diversity on its way. In our emancipation struggle we must make our analyses more complex and maintain our criticism of the lack of a development model or the lack of implementation of public policies. “Endless wars, massacres, whole populations escaping their land and becoming refugees: these are not only the consequences of a dramatic impoverishment which intensifies the contrast caused by ethnic, political or religious differences, but they are also the required complement for the privatisation process and the more and more deadly attempt to create a world where nothing escapes the logic of profit, to expropriate populations which, until recently, could still use some land or natural resources (forests, rivers), which nowadays have been appropriated by multinational companies”2.
The memory of our struggle, of our journey started many years ago, leads us to radicalise our political project: revolutionary politics should give way to emancipative and deeply revolutionary politics, where self-censorship is overcome, we integrate our will for transformation, de-homogenise political action, decolonise our bodies and minds, live freedom, free our sexuality, recognise the multiple oppressions against us and mock the power that oppresses us.
The struggle for our emancipation is the struggle forthe abolition of capitalism and patriarchy from our everyday activities, from our values and from our individual and collective ethical constructs. Our major challenge is to become more like the world we dream of. The cultural battle that we must undertake is not only against the state, nor just against the powerful, it is also against ourselves.
Translation by Nayua Abdelkefi
1) Victoria Aldunate Morales, Feminist Memory, autonomous feminists, Feminist Community Assembly of La Paz, Bolivia,
2) Ibídem pg 2