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Antisystemic Protest

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Antisystemic Protest
Peasant Protest, Rebellion, and Resistance

Antisystemic Protest


The paranoid scapegoating process at a time of social change, when people are experiencing a sense of compulsion to live up to old moral obligations even when they are ignoring them in day-to-day behavior, is a common human event. It accompanies many social movements and is apt to flare up when law and order lapse.




—Anthony F. C. Wallace, St. Clair

That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and have to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me into carriages, or over mudpuddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman ? I could work as much and eat as much as a manwhen I could get itand bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman ? I have born thirteen children, and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman ? If the first woman God every made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again.

—Sojourner Truth, cited Silverblatt, Women in States

The rebellions of peasants in Malaysia, Kenya, and Mexico resemble the peasant rebel­lions of centuries ago against landlords, nobles, elites, or whoever controlled their land and whose demands became excessive or who threatened peasant survival. The major differ­ence between the revolts we examined and those of centuries ago are that the conditions that today's peasants protest clearly are a consequence of the globalization of the capitalist economy and the resulting social and economic transformations. But what of other forms of protest, such as workers' organizations and strikes, national liberation, civil rights, fem­inist, militia, environmental, and fundamentalist religious movements? Is there any rela­tionship among the diverse groups of people involved in these protests, and is there a way to conceptualize them as a whole? That is, can we place these movements in any sort of global perspective?


There is a school of thought in anthropology, sociology, history, geography, and po­litical science that attributes these protests to the expansion of the capitalist world system. For that reason they term these antisystemic protests (Amin et al. 1990).

Capitalism requires constant change—new modes of production, new organizations of labor, the expansion of markets, new technology, and the like. It requires a society of perpetual growth. On the one hand this allows a capitalist economy enormous adaptabil­ity and flexibility. It allows business to take advantage of new technologies, to create new products and jobs, to pursue new markets, to experiment with new forms of financing, to abandon unprofitable products, forms of labor, or markets. On the other hand, this flexi­bility often has far-reaching effects on patterns of social and political relations.

The invention and development of the automobile revolutionized American society; it created millions of jobs and new industries and provided salaries for people to buy homes, appliances, and more automobiles. But the revolution wrought by the new technol­ogy also created pollution, dependence on petroleum, and industries that, in search of profit, open and close plants, first creating jobs and prosperity and then leaving unemploy­ment and depression. Other innovations, such as the computer, revolutionized the work­place, possibly improved efficiency, created new modes of communication, and made vast stores of information available at a finger's touch. But the computer also made thousands of management jobs obsolete, just as agricultural changes made millions of peasants obso­lete. While marveling over a technological innovation we often neglect to consider those whose livelihood is endangered. In our fascination with the benefits of the automobile, we rarely remember those whose living depended on horse-drawn transportation.

One can argue, as many have, that in the long run these innovations will benefit ev­eryone. We can, as some economists do, demonstrate that in the long run business fluctu­ations eventually balance out. But the ups and downs of the economist's growth chart are experienced by people as alternative phases of prosperity and crisis (Guttmann 1994:14). The economy may seek equilibrium in the long run, but people do not live in the long run; having a job and an income is an everyday concern.

In this chapter we will examine the protests of those who claim that the culture of capitalism has had a detrimental effect on their lives or the lives of others. These protests can be seen as emerging from what world system theorists identify as the two world rev­olutions, in 1848 and 1968. We will look at labor protest associated with the revolution of 1848, feminist protest whose origins can also be said to lie in 1848, and environmental protest that, while originating in the nineteenth century, took on new meaning as a result of the revolution of 1968.

Protest as Antisystemic: The Two World Revolutions

The first world revolution, suggested Immanual Wallerstein (1990), occurred in 1848, when workers, peasants, and others staged rebellions in eleven European countries. The series of revolts that began in France were all put down within a few months, but they suc­ceeded in setting an agenda for protest that ultimately led to most of the reforms called for by protesters. The second world revolution occurred in 1968, when workers, students,




Citizens and workers in Paris, France barricade the streets in  the Revolution of 1848.


peasants, and others in the United States, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Japan, and Mexico participated in popular uprisings. These movements also failed to gain the imme­diate objectives of the protesters, but they, too, set the agenda for reforms—civil rights, gay rights, women's rights, indigenous rights, environmental reform, among others—that have defined the goals of social movements since.

The Revolution of 1848

The revolution of 1848 began in France when on February 24 workers declared a new repub­lic based on universal suffrage; within a month it had spread to southwest Germany, Bavaria, Berlin, and most of Italy. Within weeks the governments of most of continental Europe had been overthrown; the revolution even incited a rebellion in Brazil, as would another revolu­tion a year later in Colombia (Hobsbawm 1975:10). Within a year and a half, however, the revolution was defeated and, except in France, previous regimes restored to power. But while workers failed to gain their immediate objectives, the revolution of 1848 defined two sets of


PART   THREE   / Resistance and Rebellion

social movements: worker movements protesting the oppression of laborers originating in in­dustrial revolution; and movements of national liberation motivated by a desire of peripheral countries to gain freedom from imperialism and colonial oppression. Both types of move­ments were, modeled after the French Revolution of 1789 and its call for 'liberty, equality, and fraternity.' The year 1848 did not, of course, mark the beginning of such movements; or­ganized worker protests against the abuses of industrialization go back at least to the seven­teenth century in Europe, and the movements for national liberation includes the American Revolution and the successful revolt against the French by Haitian slaves in 1802. But by 1848 the general guidelines and issues involved in the protests were clearly formulated.

Worker Movements. The revolution of 1848 marked the first time a proletariat-based political group tried to achieve political power. While they failed, said Wallerstein (1990), the revolution began an intense debate among labor rights advocates over the best way of improving the situation of the growing number of industrial workers. One option was to organize unions and gain the right to strike. The problem was that the nation-states of Europe and the Americas outlawed worker unions and made strikes a criminal offense. Another option was to fight for the right to vote and form political parties to represent workers' rights. If suffrage—the right to vote—was extended to more of the electorate, and since the workers comprised a majority of the population, then they could simply assume power through the ballot box. Others argued that the governing elite would never let itself be voted out of power and that violent revolution was the only solution. The result was that two competing strategies emerged in Europe and the United States to im­prove the condition of workers, one led by social democratic parties seeking political power through the vote, the other by communist organizations advocating revolution.

By 1945 unions and labor-led political parties arose in the United States, England, France, and much of Western Europe, resulting in a vast improvement in the conditions of the working class. Most core countries recognized the rights of workers to strike and bar­gain collectively, developed programs of social insurance (e.g., social security programs, unemployment programs, workers compensation programs, health programs, education programs), and extended the vote to the poor, ethnic minorities, and women. From the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century the number of people in poverty in the United States and Western Europe decreased dramatically. By 1949 most American and Western Euro­pean workers enjoyed a level of prosperity that few would have dreamed of in 1848.

At the same time, workers in revolutionary states, including Russia and most of eastern Europe, achieved their goals under communist regimes, and while they were not as prosperous as their Western counterparts, they probably enjoyed greater guarantees of basic needs (e.g., jobs, food, shelter). Thus, within a century workers enjoyed benefits fought for in the revolution of 1848.

Nationalist Antisystemic Movements. As working-class movements in Europe and the United States were struggling to improve their lives, national liberation movements were occurring on the periphery. While the social democratic and communist movements in the core were led by the industrial proletariat, the nationalist movements in the periph­ery were initiated by the middle class and intelligentsia reaching out to other anticapitalist segments of their populations. Thus virtually all the countries of Latin America gained


their independence in the nineteenth century. The countries of Asia and Africa under Eu­ropean colonial rule gained their independence after World War II. By 1968, with the ex­ception of the continuing struggle in Vietnam and continued colonial domination in a few African states, colonial powers had been forced to abandon politically their nineteenth and early twentieth-century empires and ostensibly hand over power to indigenous elites.

The enormous world economic growth that followed World War II created an illu­sion. In the West, people thought they had found the solutions to the problems of economic depression and unemployment and that their world had entered a period of perpetual pros­perity and growth; world hunger would be erased, infectious diseases would be eradicated, and class conflict would be a thing of the past. In the communist countries people believed they had discovered the economic formula for economic security; Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev would boast that by 1980 the U.S.S.R. would have overtaken and surpassed the United States in providing for its citizens. In the Third World the leaders of national liberation movements, such as the one we examined in Kenya, felt that their mixtures of socialism and capitalism would enable them to develop economically and begin to achieve the prosperity of the West. In sum, as Samir Amin et al. (1990:96) suggested, in the period after 1945 in a majority of countries the ostensible objectives of the antisystemic move­ments of the nineteenth century had come to pass as workers' or other popular movements gained control of major nation-states (Wallerstein 1990:33).

Each of the movements that emerged out of the revolution of 1848, according to Wallerstein, can take credit for one fundamental reform. The social democrats of the West claimed to have transformed the core states into welfare states with social insurance and an increase in real wages, a compromise Wallerstein called 'Fordism.' Conservative forces acceded to these reforms because they subdued protest without endangering capital accu­mulation; furthermore, they made good economic sense. However, conservative forces still sought to whittle away at the welfare state and the reforms embedded in them. In the com­munist countries, the socialization of the means of production was the great reform, along with social insurance and welfare, but at a lower level than in the West, albeit with a higher degree of security and employment. The great achievement of the national liberation movements was not an increase in wages or social security nor the socialization of the means of production, but the increased participation of indigenous people in government and the creation of an indigenous elite, such as we saw in Kenya, Mexico, and Malaysia.

Yet 1968 would see the beginning of another world revolution, this time against states that were controlled by or contained representation of the very groups that had ini­tiated the revolution of 1848. The labor-oriented Democratic Party was in power in the United States, the labor party ruled in Britain, socialists controlled France and Italy, and Eastern European countries, at least in theory, were ruled by the workers through national communist parties. The question is why, when so many of the objectives of the first world revolution were realized, did another revolution occur?

The Revolution of 1968

The revolution of 1968 was marked in the United States by student protests over Vietnam, demonstrations at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, and campus demon­strations that led to the killing of students at Jackson State and Kent State Universities by


Demonstrators outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968 are attacked by police.

state militia. In France workers and students barricaded the streets of Paris; similar dem­onstrations occurred in Japan, Mexico, and elsewhere.

From a world system perspective, 1968 was as much a turning point as 1848. The 'old' movements had attained state power or at least a voice in the state, so that the pop­ular uprisings in 1968—in the United States, France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Japan, Mexico—were not so much uprisings against the existing world system as they were pro­tests against the 'old' antisystemic movements in power in the world system. The 1968 revolution was triggered by the conviction that the old movements had not fulfilled their objectives, that they had become 'part of the problem.' However, the 1968 revolution also represented a protest by groups who felt they were not sharing in the system (Waller-stein 1990:27).

In the United States people protested against the government's attempt to suppress brutally the nationalistic objectives of the Vietnamese peoples; in Russia and Eastern Europe people learned about the brutalities of Stalin and witnessed the repression of free­dom movements in Hungary and Czechoslovakia; in the periphery the dream of economic development turned into a nightmare of poverty, government repression, and corruption.


These developments combined to leave those who had failed to gain relief with no place to turn. Thus in the midst of a continuing and unpopular war in Vietnam and a growing 'counterculture' protesting consumerism and the growing gap in wealth between the core and the periphery, the dissidents could turn to neither the social democrats nor the com­munists to express their discontent. Instead, new social movements were created that fo­cused on 'identity issues' such as civil rights, women's rights, gay and lesbian rights, indigenous people's rights, and handicapped rights (Wallerstein 1990:41). For a time, there was a sense of mutual solidarity among these movements expressed in the idea of a 'rainbow coalition.'

While in the West the theme was the forgotten people—minorities, women, and gays—in the East the struggle was directed against the bureaucrats of the communist states, a protest that would culminate in what some claim was the world revolution of 1989 that toppled the communist regimes of Eastern Europe (Wagar 1991:102). In the pe­riphery it was not that social and economic reforms failed to help half the people or that reforms created as many privileged people as they removed. Rather, it was that those in power promoted or at least acquiesced in adopting economic reforms and practices that resulted in continuing (often worsening) economic conditions, neocolonial subordination, and the emergence of a new elite.

Thus in 1968 the antisystemic movements born in 1848 faced the new antisystemic movements born in 1968. Yet, as Immanual Wallerstein (1990:45) suggested,

[w]hen all is said and done, all these movements (as movements) emerged out of a rejec­tion of the injustices of the existing world-system, the capitalist world-economy. Each in its own way was seeking to fulfill the slogan of the French revolution: more liberty, more equality, more fraternity.

A range of antisystemic movements emerged out of the two world revolutions. Our assumption is that each of these we examine in this chapter represents protest against var­ious features of the culture of capitalism. This is not to suggest that all the movements conceptualized their protest in that way; often they did not. Members of the militia move­ments in the United States, for example, do not focus on capitalism in their protests; their targets include the United Nations, Jews, Blacks, the World Trade Organization, and other agencies or groups that they blame for their economic distress. Yet on closer analysis, it is clearly the globalization of trade, the loss of manufacturing jobs to overseas assembly plants, the decline of small farmers and ranchers that caused them economic harm (see Beeman l997;Junas 1995).

The Protests of Labor: Coal Miners in Nineteenth-Century Pennsylvania

In St. Clair, Anthony F. C. Wallace (1987) offered an intimate glimpse of life in the nine­teenth-century Pennsylvania coal town of St. Clair and the conditions that led to labor protest, and the efforts of mine owners and operators to suppress it. For various reasons, coal mining was not economically viable in much of Pennsylvania, yet mine operators




persisted in their efforts to make a profit, scrimping on safety and workers' wages and then blaming the workers for their lack of success. As we shall see, the workers re­sponded with a labor protest that was met with systematic repression.

The Coal Industry and the Worker's Life

In the 1820s and 1830s investors from Philadelphia and New York turned their attention to the coal fields of Pennsylvania, investing heavily in land they thought would yield high profits in coal. The landowners generally did not run the mining operations themselves but rented or leased the land to coal mine operators. The operators expected to make a profit because of the need for coal to provide warmth in homes and fuel for the furnaces of what they hoped would be a thriving U.S. iron industry. Labor for the mines came from new immigrants from England, Germany, Ireland, and Wales.

Coal mining in the anthracite region of southeastern Pennsylvania entailed digging shafts underground to locate the veins of coal, building tracks or hoists in the shafts to haul coal and transport men and equipment to and from the surface, and constructing pumps to drain the water shafts. Above ground was a series of conveyer devices called breakers that broke the large pieces of coal into desired sizes and loaded the coal onto railroad cars or canal barges for shipment to its destination.

Each mine in southeastern Pennsylvania, where St. Clair is located, employed 200-300 persons. Work organization, as it is in most industries, was hierarchical and divided between those who worked below ground in the mines and those who worked above ground. The lowest-level workers in the mines were boys eight to twelve years of age who worked the ventilation doors that controlled air flow in the mine as men, mules, and equipment passed back and forth. Next were the teenage boys who drove the mules that pulled the carts filled with coal. Next in the underground hierarchy were the miners' help­ers, and next were the contract miners, who were paid according to the amount of coal they loaded. Toward the top of the worker's hierarchy were the craftsmen—masons, car­penters, blacksmiths, and pumpmen—who worked underground. In charge of this group were the mine boss and the fire boss, whose main duty was to inspect the mine each morning to ensure that it was safe from methane gas produced by the coal, rock falls, and flooding. Above ground the bottom of the hierarchy consisted of the slatepickers, who picked debris out of the coal before it was loaded for shipment and who might be as young as four years of age and other unskilled workers doing a variety of loading chores. Higher up in the above ground hierarchy were the highly skilled workers such as engi­neers, machinists, carpenters, and teamsters.

The work force in the mine was also divided by ethnic group; the top jobs were held by migrants from areas with a coal mining tradition—England, Wales, and Germany; at the bottom were migrants from Ireland, who had little or no mining experience. The place of the Irish at the bottom of the hierarchy was also a consequence of their reputation for rowdiness, drunkenness, and unsafe conduct in the mines.

Mining grew significantly in the St. Clair area from the 1840s through the 1870s, in spite of the fact that few people were making any money and many were losing a great deal. The costs to operators of mining a ton of coal seemed to vary from $1.56 to $3.16. These figures did not include township taxes, canal or railroad shipping costs, or commis-


sions to sales agents, nor depreciation on property or interest on loans. Railroad shipping costs varied, climbing or falling from an average of about $1.60 per ton. In sum, the actual cost of mining a ton of coal must have been at least $3.16 to $4.16, although, given the absence of accounting procedures it is unlikely mine operators knew their full production costs. However, depending on the competition, the time of year, the supply, and other fac­tors, the price of coal to customers averaged only about $2.75 per ton. Moreover, there were frequent interruptions to mining operations caused by accidents, breakdowns, over­production, and flooding.

Wallace suggested that one reason people continued to mine despite losing money was the inadequacy of their accounting procedures: by the time they realized that they were losing money it was too late to do anything about it. Wallace (1987:25) estimated that 95 percent of all collieries failed from 1820 to 1875, and the median survival time of a company was less than one year.

Why was coal mining unprofitable in St. Clair and the surrounding area ? Appar­ently there were two reasons: the geology of the area and the frequent work stoppages caused by accidents.

Veins of coal are stratified deposits of decomposed organic materials transformed underground by pressure and heat into masses of carbon-rich materials. Movements of the Earth's crust sometimes brings these veins to the surface, so that they form vertical or di­agonal deposits. The size and directions of these deposits determine how easy or difficult they are to mine. Those veins brought to the surface are obviously the easiest to mine, and these deposits were the first to be exploited. Other deposits can be reached only by dig­ging underground. For these the ease of mining depends on the size of the vein and the depth to which one had to dig to reach it. The problem in the St. Clair area was that the nature of the coal deposits required a lot of digging to reach veins that were often small or of poor quality.

Apparently coal mine operators could have avoided their losses if they had taken se­riously the reports of geologists who concluded that mining in the area would not be prof­itable. But the landowners and the mine operators chose to ignore those reports, believing instead those who attacked the scientists' findings and claimed that the investments that had already been made could prove profitable.

The second reason the mines failed to make money—the frequency of work stop­pages due to accidents—was related to the first; given the small profit margin to be made mining coal in the anthracite district, mine operators had to save money on operations, and one way they did that was by scrimping on safety. Coal mining is dangerous. In addi­tion to cave-ins, flooding caused by pump failures, and the risks of working around the conveyor belts of the breakers, there was the constant danger of explosions. Coal pro­duces methane gas, and when the amount of methane reaches a 5-12 percent mixture with oxygen any flame or spark will ignite it. Since miners of the period carried open-flame lamps attached to their helmets, the possibility of explosion was very great. One way to prevent the critical buildup of methane was to construct ventilation systems that ensured constant air flow through the shafts. Such systems were costly, however, and since the profit margins were so small most mine operators invested a minimum in such systems. Moreover, there were no state or federal safety standards that the mine operators had to follow. The costs of neglecting safety were high to both miners and mine operators:


miners lost lives and limbs in accidents and explosions, and operators lost money in the destruction of equipment.

The mine owners failed to recognize or admit that the geology of the coal fields made it uneconomical to mine: They blamed their economic failure not on the geology or their business practices, but on the federal government for not putting a high enough tariff on British iron being imported into the country. Coal mining profits were closely tied to the rise and fall of the American iron industry; if the iron industry did not expand, the coal industry could not grow. But British iron was cheaper, and perhaps better, than American iron. If British iron was made more expensive by high import tariffs, both the American iron industry and the coal industry would expand and profit.

Accidents and work stoppages, however, could not be blamed on the British or the government. Mine operators and owners, instead of recognizing their own culpability, blamed careless workers. When Wallace reviewed accident reports for the period, he found that in almost every case the accident was blamed on miner negligence. This not only absolved the mine owner of blame for the economic losses, it also relieved the mine operator of any financial liability for the accident.

The accident and death rates due to inadequate ventilation and lack of emergency tunnels to allow miners to escape from explosions or cave-ins were appalling. It is difficult to get reliable figures on injuries and deaths in the mines from 1850 to 1880. After exam­ining fatality rates from 1870 to 1884, Wallace estimated that fatality rates varied from 2.3 percent to 6.8 percent of the work force per year—and this was after the passage of a mine safety law in 1869 in Pennsylvania. We do know that the numbers killed in Pennsylvania mines were far higher than in Great Britain; there was one fatality for every 33,433 tons mined in Pennsylvania as opposed to one fatality per 103,000 tons in Great Britain.

Before the passage of the mine safety law in 1869 no one kept consistent records, but by using reports in the Miner's Journal, the major publication for the mining industry. Wallace concluded that each year 6 percent of people employed in mining, including those who worked above ground, were killed, another 6 percent were crippled for life, while yet another 6 percent were seriously injured. Thus a mining employee had less than an even chance of surviving for twelve years, and he could expect to be killed or crippled for life in six (Wallace 1987:253). Since mine operators continued to see the accidents as caused by careless miners, and since the courts absolved them of any responsibility for death or accidents, there was little need for them to change their practices.

Given the difficulty of making a profit in coal mining, mine operators not only cut costs on safety but also minimized the pay of miners. It was a buyer's market for labor. The transformation of agriculture in Europe, as we saw in Chapter 2, created millions of landless peasants, while the fluctuations in demand for such products as textiles, iron, and coal resulted in great economic insecurity for those dependent on jobs for their livelihood.

Mine managers made $1.95 per day, foreman $1.25 per day, blacksmiths $1.08 per day, and miners $1.16 per day if they worked twenty-four days in the four-week pay period (or about $28 per month). Contract miners were a different category and were paid by the wagon load or by the yard if they were cutting tunnels. But out of this the contract miner had to pay his helpers and other expenses, such as lamps and wicks. Helpers gener­ally earned $0.85-0.95 per day, which meant the contract miner had to earn about $50 per month just to earn as much as he paid his helper.


The income was above subsistence level for the time, but that assumed no work stoppages, no illness, and no layoffs—all three of which were likely at some point. This was compensated for, in some respects, by the fact that most households had more than one wage earner; a household with one worker might make $150-200 per year. Some households took in boarders and some women worked as seamstresses, cooks, and maids.

Food was cheap; corn was $0.50 per bushel, eggs $0.11 per dozen, flour $5.00 per barrel, butter $0.18 per pound, bacon $0.07 per pound, beef $0.08 per pound. Housing was also cheap. Thus a laborer with a wife and two children who earned on the average $20 per month could subsist and even save a little; families with more than two children would have required income from other family members, but children could be put to work by the time they were eight or nine. The problem was that work was often not steady-strikes, floods, and accidents often closed down the mines or disabled the miner.

Furthermore, working in the mines took a devastating toll on the miner's health. Coal mining produced not only methane gas but tiny particles of coal dust that worked its way into the lungs. The rates of disability and death due to 'miner's asthma,' or black lung disease, were extremely high. As one mine inspector (cited Wallace 1987:257) of the time wrote,

[a]fter six years' labor in a badly ventilated mine—that is a mine where a man with a good constitution may from habit be able to work everyday for several years—the lungs begin to change to a bluish color. After twelve years they are densely black, not a vestige of nat­ural color remaining, and are little better than carbon itself. The miner dies at thirty-five of coal miner's consumption.

Worker Resistance and Protest

How could the laborers protect their interests, and formally or informally protest the dan­gers they faced in the mines and the economic insecurity brought about by low wages, layoffs, and work stoppages ?

Miners protested their low wages and dangerous work conditions in various ways; there were spontaneous work stoppages, acts of sabotage against the mines, demonstra­tions and marches, and probably work slowdowns. Many of these acts were met with force from the police or state militia. The first regional strike in the region occurred in 1858, when lower coal prices resulted in wage cuts. Miners closed down the mines and marched through the streets banging drums and waving flags. The sheriff called out the militia, and men were arrested on riot charges.

The first effective strike occurred in 1868, when the Pennsylvania legislature passed a law making eight hours a legal workday, although it also meant a cut in wages. Miners began a strike, demanding that the eight-hour day be instituted with no cut in wages, re­sulting, in effect, in a 20 percent pay raise. The dispute was settled after the miners closed down the mines, with workers obtaining a 10 percent wage increase.

While unions were illegal, the miners formed the Workingmen's Benevolent Asso­ciation of St. Clair in 1868, the forerunner of the United Mine Workers of America. Al­though the mine owners and operators refused to recognize the association as the bargaining agent for mine workers, it was effective in lobbying for safety legislation and improved living conditions, as well as in organizing strikes.


Also central to Irish protest against discrimination, both on the job and off, were the Molly Maguires. The term Molly Maguires originated in the south of Ireland and was ap­plied to groups of peasants who organized to retaliate against landlords, magistrates, and others guilty of injustices to poor, Irish families. The name was suggested by the practice of young men who disguised themselves by blackening their faces with burnt cork and dress­ing in women's clothing. In these disguises they beat or killed gamekeepers, servers of evic­tion notices, cottage wrecking crews, or others responsible for oppressing Irish families. It was Benjamin Bannan, in his Miner's Journal, who began to articulate the idea of Irish Catholics and the Molly Maguires in the role of conspirators, calling it a secret Roman Catholic organization that aims to control the political process and the Democratic Party.

To what extent the Molly Maguires were a formal secret society or an imagined conspiracy is a moot question. There is no question, however, that Irish Catholics orga­nized to protect themselves and to retaliate, sometimes with violence, against discrimina­tion or what they perceived as injustice. Organizations such as the Molly Maguires are not uncommon in social situations in which there is little effective public order or among groups that view the state authorities as hostile to them. These groups become institution­alized systems of law outside the official law, a parallel government outside the official government. Eric Hobsbawm (1959:6) referred to such groups as mafia, seeing them as a form of organized rebellion again hostile groups or public authorities.

The main importance of the Molly Maguires in the struggle between Irish mine work­ers and the mine owners and operators was that they became the focus of the owners' and operators' attempts to destroy the miners association and to link it, as well as other worker organizations, with an international conspiracy. In many ways, the Molly Maguires repre­sented to the mine owners what the Mau Mau oath represented to the British in Kenya. It also represents attempts by nation-states or capitalist enterprises to associate social protest with activities defined as illegal and to label such protest as criminal or terrorist activity.

Whether there was a secret society operating in the coal fields of Pennsylvania, or whether the name Molly Maguires was applied to any group seeking retributive justice is unclear. It was clear that there were individuals who did not hesitate to use violence on those who they felt inflicted injustice on the Irish or whose injustice went unpunished by the courts. Furthermore, labor violence was real enough: there were attacks on strike breakers, sabotage at the mines, and physical attacks on mine operators or their agents, and the workers' association often used the language of violence. Furthermore, many be­lieved that the parent organization of the Molly Maguires was the Ancient Order of Hiber­nians, an Irish Catholic Benevolent association modeled after fraternal organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, from which Irish were excluded.

In September 1875 there was an epidemic of murders and attempted murders; the victims had been guilty of attacks on Irish or of firing or blacklisting Irish workers. As Wallace (1987:374) said, those who were called Molly Maguires acted on 'the demand for retributive justice in an atmosphere of ethnic discrimination by the authorities and bitter resentment by those who felt that they had systematically been denied their rights.'

The punishments dealt out by the Molly Maguires were carefully weighted accord­ing to the crime. Capital offenses included killing an Irishman and being acquitted by the court, trying to kill an Irishman and not being arrested, and depriving an Irishman of his livelihood. Verbally threatening an Irishman called for a severe beating. The victims were


always selected because they were the ones who committed the injury and were never at­tacked as random targets; women and children were never targeted, even if they were wit­nesses (Wallace 1987:359). Defense funds were established for Mollies, as Irishmen believed, with some justification, that they were being discriminated against and could not expect justice from the courts or police.

Thus workers had various means to protest their treatment by mine owners and op­erators, other miners, and state or local authorities. They ranged from informal and spon­taneous acts, to formal labor organizing, to organized violence, much of which originated in ethnic discrimination, as it did in labor protest. But labor and ethnic discrimination were tied together by the mine owners and operators in their attempts to destroy the work­ers' organizations.

Destroying Worker Resistance

Mine owners and operators were vehemently opposed to any legislation that either in­creased safety in the mines or recognized workers' rights to collective bargaining. Addi­tional safety measures, they argued, would make the mines uneconomical, and collective bargaining would give the workers too great a say in mine operation. The Pennsylvania legislature did pass safety legislation in 1869, but only five months later a mine explosion at Avondale, Pennsylvania, killed 108 people, most of whom were asphyxiated by gases while waiting to be rescued because there was no escape tunnel.

The owners also tried to destroy the Ancient Order of Hibernians, claiming it was simply a front for the Molly Maguires. But the ultimate goal of the mine operators was to destroy the union and other miner organizations. The leader of the attack was John Gowen, an ex-coal operator and attorney for the Philadelphia and Reading Coal and Iron Company, which by 1885 came to dominate the anthracite coal district.

Gowen's strategy was to portray the Workingmen's Benevolent Association and the Ancient Order of Hibernians as extensions of the Molly Maguires, in effect scapegoating worker organizations for real or imagined offenses of the Molly Maguires. First he hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to infiltrate the Workingmen's Benevolent Association to uncover connections between it and the Ancient Order of Hiberbians and the Molly Maguires. The operative could find no evidence of any connection between the union and any secret organization.



Gowen then hired another agent to infiltrate the Ancient Order of Hibernians. The agent reported only that many people were leaving the organization because of the at­tempt to connect it to the Molly Maguires. In fact, the smear campaign against the Order was so effective that some Irish clergy had condemned it, even threatening to excommu­nicate any Catholic who remained a member.

Gowen finally got his chance to destroy the Order in a case of attempted murder of a Welshman, M. 'Bully Bill' Thomas. Thomas, a prizefighter, was involved in a melee between the Welsh and Irish fire companies, both of which arrived to put out the same fire; shots were fired, a man was killed, and a young Irishman named Daniel Dougherty was charged with murder. Dougherty was acquitted, and this time the avengers were Welshmen, not Irish. 'Bully Bill' Thomas and others made an attempt on Dougherty's life, and local members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians planned a retaliation. Thomas was


attacked and shot but survived; based on his complaint and evidence from the Pinkerton agent, arrests were made. Gowen put the Ancient Order of Hibernians and the Working-men's Benevolent Association on trial, painting them in such sinister terms that being a member was tantamount to having a bad reputation. A succession of trials resulted in the hanging of twenty men convicted of conspiracy to murder. The trial, in effect, succeeded in scapegoating the miners and their organizations for the economic failure of the coal fields.

In fact, according to Wallace, there was little or no connection between the Work-ingmen's Benevolent Association and the Ancient Order of Hibernians, although there is little doubt that the Molly Maguires served as a mechanism for Irish Catholics to achieve retributive justice in a hostile world. More interesting, the reaction of Gowen and others is reminiscent of the reaction of the British to the Mau Mau, refusing to recognize any real oppression and blaming instead oath taking and secret ritual. The end result was to dis­credit an already broken union and fix the blame for the problems of the coal trade on forces outside the trade, such as the absence of protective tariffs on British iron and the workers themselves.

Wallace's story of St. Clair also provides some insights into the origin of labor con­flict, a story being repeated today in industries all over the world. In St. Clair we found a marginally profitable industry trying to squeeze a profit by lowering wages and scrimping on safety measures, creating conditions ripe for labor protest. Today we find marginally profitable, highly competitive industries, such as textiles, electronics, and toys, cutting labor costs by moving into countries whose lack of labor legislation mirrors the labor sit­uation in Pennsylvania in the nineteenth century. Workers in these countries face the same problems of low wages and unsafe working conditions that workers in the Pennsylvania coal fields of the nineteenth century faced.

These conditions have led to attempts to organize, attempts generally met with legal repression or violence by industry owners or managers and the state. Each year the Interna­tional Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) issues an annual report on labor vio­lence and repression. In the 113 countries studied for the 1999 report, some 3,000 workers were arrested, more than 1,500 were injured, beaten or tortured, and at least 5,800 suffered harassment due to their legitimate union activities in 1999. In Colombia, 76 trade unionists were assassinated or reported missing along with 676 death threats, 13 attempted assassi­nations, 22 kidnaps, and 28 forced exiles. In Morocco, 23 trade unionists were sent to prison after striking over labor law violations, 21 of whom had been tortured by police in detention. In South Korea, 230 people were arrested, more than 150 were injured, and over 650 were harassed in antiunion repression and in Russia, four trade unionists were assassi­nated (ICFTU 2000). In 1993, Masinah, a young female worker at a watch factory in Indo­nesia, was abducted, gang-raped, and murdered for leading a strike to add a $0.25 meal allowance to an $0.84 per day salary. Even in the United States, claims the ICFTU, at least one in ten workers campaigning for unionization is illegally fired.

Global Feminist Resistance

In September 1995, representatives from nongovernmental organizations all over the world gathered in Beijing, China, at the Fourth World Conference on Women, to develop


what conference participants called 'strategic sisterhood,' an international sisterhood to unite the causes of women in the periphery with those in the core. The model for present-day protests about the rights of women can be traced to the world revolution of 1848. In that year 400 participants gathered in Seneca Falls, New York, to plan their strategy to fight for the abolition of slavery. At the meeting Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the lead­ing social activists of the nineteenth century, introduced a resolution that women be given the right to vote. Such an idea was radical even in that setting, and it passed only after Fred­erick Douglass, the most prominent African American of the nineteenth century, sup­ported the resolution. The resolution was greeted with contempt by most Americans: one newspaper called it an insurrection, another accused the women of being Amazons. And while Black men were given the right to vote in 1869, women, with the exception of those in a few western states such as Wyoming, Colorado, Idaho, and Utah, were not allowed to vote until 1920. Yet, though it took over seventy years, the right for women to vote was one of the changes that emerged out of the revolutionary mood of 1848.

While the modern feminist movement has helped raise the status of women, at least in the West, women remain among the most economically, politically, and socially mar­ginalized members of global society. As Martha Ward noted in A World Full of Women (1996:221), the major occupations of women worldwide are 'street-selling, factory as­sembly lines, piecework, cash-cropping and commercial agriculture, prostitution or sex work, and service in domestic settings, like maids who change the sheets on hotel beds.'

At the same time that women produce 75 to 90 percent of food crops in the world, they are responsible for the running of households. According to the United Nations, in no country in the world do men come anywhere close to women in the amount of time spent in housework. Furthermore, despite the efforts of feminist movements, women in the core still suffer disproportionately, leading to what sociologists refer to as the 'femi-nization of poverty,' where two out of every three poor adults are women. The informal slogan of the Decade of Women became 'Women do two-thirds of the world's work, re­ceive 10 percent of the world's income and own 1 percent of the means of production' (cited Ward 1996:224).

These conditions have incited feminist protest in virtually every country of the world. In India, dowry—the money and gifts a bride brought with her to her husband's household—became an object of protest in the 1970s when a young woman was killed by her in-laws because her parents could not meet the in-laws' increasing demands for dowry. Apparently this was not uncommon; there were other reports of in-laws dowsing daughters-in-law with kerosene and setting them on fire. These were often classed by au­thorities as suicide and passed off as family affairs of no concern to the state (Kumar 1995). In Bangladesh, women organized to gain access to employment and fair wages and to revise inheritance laws that favored men (Jahan 1995). In the Philippines, women orga­nized to gain labor rights after the imposition in 1972 of martial law by President Ferdi­nand Marcos, a movement that contributed to the election of Corazon Aquino as the first woman president of the Philippines. In South Africa, women have organized to protest sexual abuse, economic inequality, and the exclusion of women from public policy deci­sion making (Kemp et al. 1995). In Kenya, women's groups have proliferated to support the entry of women into business, community projects, and revolving loan programs (Oduol and Kabira 1995).


The women's movements that proliferated in the 1970s have had significant effects in some areas. In Peru, for example, it would have been unusual twenty years ago to see, as one can now, a woman conducting the national symphony orchestra, working in poli­tics, or running a business. Twenty years ago Peruvian women's lives centered on their family and the home (Blondet 1995).

In spite of some gains, however, the economic position of women in global society remains, as a whole, marginal to that of men. For example, women represent about 60 percent of the billion or so people earning $1.00 or less per day. We need to ask what are the factors that contribute to the inferior position of women in the world, and what are some of the strategies that can be employed to improve their position?

Gender Relations in the Culture of Capitalism

Eleanor Leacock, who has studied the role of women in capitalism around the world, con­cluded that some women hold some measure of influence and power (1986:107). But the degree of power varies with the gender system of their culture, the status of the race, reli­gious group, or class to which they belong, the political system under which they live, and their personal attributes and life histories. Leacock agreed with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels that capitalism is patriarchal and paternalistic, that the mode of production that creates a hierarchy of labor and a family structure that relegates women to domestic work inevitably leads to the oppression of women. The question is, what evidence is there that the marginalization of women and the protest that it inspires, particularly in the periph­ery, is a consequence of the expansion of the culture of capitalism?

Four developments that accompanied the expansion of the culture of capitalism helped define its system of gender relations: the loss of control by women over valuable and productive resources; the transformation of extended families into male-dominated nuclear families; the expansion of industry into the periphery; and the imposition on pe­ripheral countries by multilateral institutions of structural adjustment programs. Let's ex­amine each of these developments.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries capitalist expansion altered two sets of social relations in societies into which it spread. First, capitalism resulted in the loss of control by most members of societies of the means of production, making them depen­dent for survival on the sale of their labor. Second, capitalism undermined large, extended family groups, isolating people into individual or nuclear families, each a separate eco­nomic unit ruled over by male household heads. In these developments, said Leacock (1983:268), lie the origins of the modern suppression of women. For example women among the Cherokee and Iroquois in North America were equals or near equals of men. Women generally controlled the production of food crops and played a major role in public decision making; among the Iroquois, women chose the political leaders and could decide themselves to terminate a marriage. Colonists initiated changes by negotiating or trading only with men and by introducing a European model economy to replace horticul­ture and hunting. This undermined the authority of extended kin groups, in which women played a major role, thus creating a society based on male-dominated agriculture. Among the Montagnais-Nasksapi of Labrador, cooking, cleaning, and housework did not become institutionalized as women's work until women became dependent on fur-trapping hus-


bands and individual households of husbands, wives, and children replaced family lodges. In this way, said Leacock (1986:117), women's productive activities and decision-making authority shifted from the larger kin groups and the fields to the household domain, while their social status was redefined as subservient to and dependent on male household heads.

Missionaries further undermined women's authority, especially in societies where women had important ritual responsibilities, by refusing to deal with women and by using their power to undermine traditional family arrangements. The missionaries believed the patriarchal nuclear family was ordained by God and taught that a woman's role was to pro­vide loving care for husband and children. As a result, women's unpaid household labor became, for all practical purposes, a gift to plantation or mine owners, manufacturers, or traders who realized their profit from the work of husbands and sons (Leacock 1983:271).

In her survey of Africa, Ester Boserup (1970:277) noted much the same process: the economic and social policies of British, German, Dutch, Portuguese, and French colonizers undercut the traditional role of women as farmers, merchants, and participants in the politi­cal process of families by undermining the power of extended families or clans, taking away women's rights to land, and relegating women to the household or low-paid wage labor. We saw the consequences of this in Chapter 6 in the case of the famine in Malawi.

Karen Sacks (1979) summarized these changes in Africa by contrasting the roles of 'sisters' with the roles of 'wives.' 'Sisterhood,' Sacks argued, is shorthand for a rela­tionship in which women have access to valuable resources (land, livestock, and money) based on their membership in the extended kin group of brothers and sisters. Sisterhood connotes autonomy, adulthood, and the possibilities of gender equality. Wife or 'wife-hood,' on the other hand, connotes a relationship of dependency. According to Sacks, the development of nation-states in the culture of capitalism undermined women's status by dismantling the larger, family-based institutions on which 'sister' relations rested, turn­ing women into dependent wives.

The works of such writers as Leacock, Boserup, and Sacks raise an interesting issue (see Silverblatt 1988). Modernization theorists who argue about the benefits and sometimes the inevitability of modernization generally point to the decline of the extended family and the emergence of the nuclear family as the basic unit of society as a major example of progress. Most feminist theorists propose that the nuclear family is partly responsible for the inferior position of women. Since we propose that this change has little to do with 'modernization' and more to do with the emergence and expansion of the culture of capitalism we need to ask why was the extended family not compatible with other elements of capitalist culture?

We examined, in Chapter 1 the reason the nuclear family promoted consumption by requiring each small unit to purchase and consume commodities that in extended family units could easily be shared. In Chapter 9, we examined why communal property held by extended families is problematic to the economic and legal relations in capitalism. But there are other reasons why small nuclear family units are preferred in the culture of cap­italism. For example, the extended family, as a political entity, conflicts with the needs of the nation-state to educate and control its citizens. Members of large extended families are more difficult to control than are members of small, isolated, nuclear families. In ad­dition, the demands for a flexible and mobile labor supply make the extended family im­practical. It is far better for capitalism to reduce people's social and emotional ties to others, to make it easier for them to relocate to where labor is needed. If we assume that it


is the preferred family unit in the culture of capitalism, how does the nuclear family lend itself to the relegation of women to an inferior position?

First, the emergence of the nuclear family tended to release men from the ties to the extended family and make them more autonomous, giving them greater control over re­sources and over the members of their households. In societies where women retain close ties to their families, such control is rarely present. Furthermore, recognition of the male as head of the household conveys to male household heads control of those resources.

Second, the nuclear family and the patrilocality of the work force serves to separate adult women from their peers, therefore reducing the potential for the social support of other women and for building class consciousness among women. The classic example, of course, is the nuclear family with a mother who does not work outside the home (Tétreault 1994:10). In some cases, as in Japan and China, the young bride is brought into the patriarchal home and virtually isolated from outside society.

A third feature of the nuclear family that supports the subservient position of women is the prevalent form of marriage. The nuclear family is traditionally composed of a larger, older, better-educated, richer, more sexually experienced, and generally legally favored man who is married to a smaller, younger, less well-educated, propertyless, inexperienced, and socially less well-protected woman. While this form of marriage is not restricted to the culture of capitalism, its historic prevalence in European cultures and its spread through economic colonization and missionary activity to the periphery certainly helped sustain or create households of dominant men and subservient women (Tétreault 1994:9-10).

In addition to removing from women access to the means of production and making the male-dominated nuclear family the main social unit of society, the expansion of in­dustrial production from the core to the periphery served to marginalize women econom­ically. The growth of assembly plants in countries such as Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala, and Indonesia beginning in the 1960s and 1970s depended on a disproportionately female work force in low-paying jobs. While some have argued that such work expanded women's economic options, the fact remains that as global capital spread women worked harder, either in and from their homes or in assembly plants. Yet the work is economically marginal, temporary, or low-paying. Globally, two-thirds of all part-time workers and 60 percent of all temporary workers are women. Furthermore, while working for pennies an hour, women remained responsible for all or most of the household labor necessary to sustain their families (Eisenstein 1997).

The global economic trends of the 1990s have further undermined women as nation-states, at the urgings of such groups as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, terminate social services intended to alleviate the conditions of people living in poverty, a disproportionate number of whom are women and children (Basu 1995:6). Thus the withdrawal or reduction by the state of its support of workplace legislation, social service programs, job programs, health programs, and education programs dispro­portionately affects the position of women in society (Eisenstein 1997).

In sum, feminist protest arises from conditions that relegate women to the private or domestic sphere, that offer only low-paying jobs, and that undermine public policies geared to protect women and children from the widespread poverty that exists in the pe­riphery. The question is, what are some of the ways people can resist the marginalization and subjugation of women globally?


Strategies of Protest

Clearly, to the extent that the inferior status of women is linked to the nature of the econ­omy, family, and the nation-state, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to change. For this reason some have suggested that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalist nation-states is the only solution to female oppression. Historically, this may help explain the prominent role of women in revolutionary programs. We saw in Chapter 10 the prominent role played by women in the protests of peasants in Malaysia, the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya, and the revolt in Chiapas. Women were given prominent places, at least initially, in the communist revolutions in Russia, China, and Cuba. Yet it is arguable how much these revolutions improved the status of women.

One of the first acts of the Chinese government after its victory in 1949 was to es­tablish the All-China Women's Federation to further the status of women. The communist government banned the Chinese custom of foot binding of women, built a system of uni­versal health care, and dramatically improved women's health. Yet today some of the worst cases of female labor exploitation are found in China. In an incident reminiscent of the notorious 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire in New York City that killed 145 gar­ment workers and prompted new labor legislation, a fire in November 1993 killed eighty-four female workers in a toy factory in Shenzhen in south China. They were prevented from escaping by doors and windows barred to prevent stealing. Furthermore, the Chi­nese government repeatedly cracks down on the formation of independent labor unions whose work, while not specifically aimed at improving the condition of women, would greatly benefit women laborers.

After the socialist revolution of 1959 in Cuba, Fidel Castro's government moved to integrate women better into the public spheres of government and labor. In 1960 the gov­ernment formed the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) to consolidate existing women's institutions in support of the revolution and integrate women into the work force. While only 13.7 percent of the potential female work force was active in 1953, by 1990 45 per­cent of working-age women were employed. Yet in spite of such apparent gains, 'mother­hood' remains at the heart of the official view of women in Cuba; child care and domestic duties remain at the core of the female role, and Cuban women continue to bear the brunt of domestic labor—housework and child care (Lutjens 1994).

While the goals of socialist revolutions to improve the status of women clearly did not live up to their promise, clearly the fall of communism in Eastern Europe has wors­ened the condition of women. Seventy-three percent of Russia's unemployed are women, half of whom have college educations. The overwhelming number of peddlers on the streets of Moscow are old women and young mothers. Without the protection of the so­cialist nation-state, the traditional view of women as housewives has reemerged. Gennady Melikyan, Russia's labor minister, made this clear when he said, 'Why should we employ women when men are unemployed? It's better that men work and women take care of children and do the housework'(Eisenstein 1997).



In Western countries women's movements have focused on affirmative action, re­productive rights, and greater access of women to education. At the Fourth World Confer­ence on Women in Beijing, there was a strong movement for women in the periphery to begin to adopt the strategies employed by feminists in the core. Yet many women and



Women in New Delhi marching to protest high food prices in 1973.

women's groups in the periphery are wary of Western forms of feminist protest. Many women's groups in the periphery or the ex-communist countries of Eastern Europe see at­tempts to export Western feminism as a new form of colonialism or imperialism. In Muslim countries, in particular, many women reject what they see as the 'man-hating' feminism of Western women's movements.

Anthropologists, such as Aihwa Ong (1997), have warned against the tendency of Western feminists to impose their value system of individual autonomy on women's movements in peripheral countries. Ong noted that male leaders in Asian countries, such as China, Indonesia, and Malaysia, have argued that women's rights are not simply about individual rights but about culture, community, and the nation-state. They counter accusa­tions that they are exploiting female labor in assembly plants by arguing for their right to develop economically and for the obligation of all members of the community or nation to contribute to that development in any way they can, that the right to develop is also a 'human right.' Asian leaders claim that the family, state, or nation is the primary unit of advancement, not the individual. The problem, said Ong, is how can women's movements in the periphery counter these arguments that in their cultural context are so persuasive?

Insufficient attention has been given to cultural and religious differences between core and peripheral countries regarding the role of women and the place of political pro­test (Ong 1997). Feminists must be sensitive to 'othering,' wherein Westerners gain their sense of being liberated by defining others, particularly women from the periphery, as being backward and oppressed. For example, when delegates at the conference from


Catholic and Muslim countries argued for a strategy that recognized a 'separate but equal' status for women, they were accused of being traditional and marginalized by Western representatives.

Ong suggested that it would be more fruitful for women's movements in the core to be more receptive to an exchange of ideas and to consider the idea that strategies for im­proving the status of women must recognize cultural differences and the nature of power relations in different societies. We must, said Ong, 'analyze the ways women and men in different societies struggle over cultural meanings that structure their lives.'

To illustrate, Ong related the story of the Sisters in Islam, a group of Western-edu­cated feminists who are trying to change gender relations in Malaysia, not by employing Western feminist methods but within the context of their own culture through the reinter-pretation of Islamic texts. Islam, particularly Islamic fundamentalism, has been targeted by Western feminists and human rights advocates as being particularly oppressive toward females. Islam permits polygyny, restricts the inheritance rights of females to half that of males, restricts the movements of women, and, in extreme cases, denies women an educa­tion or any position outside the home.

Sisters in Islam, instead of condemning Islamic belief, argue that women should be afforded the same access to religious education as men, and with this education they should enter into debate with the almost exclusively male Muslim clerics about the mean­ing of sacred texts such as the Qur'an and their interpretation of the role of women in so­ciety. Using newspaper columns to reach the public, the Sisters in Islam argue that the interpretation of the sacred texts must put Qur'anic recommendations in historical con­text. For example, male clerics justify Islam's approval of polygyny by claiming the Qur'an justified polygyny because the male sex drive made them 'adulterous by nature.' The Sisters in Islam counter this interpretation by pointing out that the Qur'an does not give men a blanket right to more than one wife; the sanctioning of polygyny in the Qur'an must be understood in the historical context in which the death of men through wars left women and children without male support. Allah thus sanctioned polygyny, they argue, not because of any intrinsic difference in the sex drive of men and women, but because it helped alleviate the problem of war orphans and widows, by allowing widows to remarry men who already had a wife or wives.

The Sisters in Islam also argue against the stringent dress codes that male clerics say are demanded by the Qur'an. Citing verses of the sacred texts, the Sisters in Islam argue that '[c]oercion is contrary to the spirit of the Qur'an which states that there is no compulsion in [Islamic] religion'(cited Ong 1997) and that it is wrong to try to enforce faith through authority. The proper way to protect women, they say, is through decent and respectful treatment. Coercive dress policy, 'in fact, runs counter to Islam's emancipatory emphasis upon reason [and] freedom as the basis of human morality' (cited Ong 1997).

Groups such as the Sisters in Islam have produced results. One Malaysian official (cited Ong 1997:89) who is now chair of the U.N. Commission for Human Rights noted:

Malaysia used to be a male-dominated society. In the old days, there was no talk of women's rights, but through the gradual process of politicization, womenare able to assert themselves. Compared with ten years ago, there is much more publicity, conscious­ness, and more sensitivity on questions of women's rights.


Malaysia is still a male-dominated society, but by entering into a dialogue with Muslim clerics on their own terms, the Sisters in Islam have produced what Ong called a kind of 'feminist communitarianism' that combines the liberal right to question authority, certainly recognized in the Qur'an, with the cultural norms of their own community. These kinds of movements, said Ong, should not be dismissed by Western feminists; rather, the idea of women's rights makes sense only in the context of specific cultural communities.

Ecological Resistance Movements

There is little question, as we have seen, that the culture of capitalism is environmentally destructive and that the need for perpetual economic growth requires perpetual environ­mental exploitation. But, as in changes in other areas of life, such as agriculture, technol­ogy, and family structure, not everyone suffers equally. It is true that everyone may be affected by global warming and the increase in acid rain, but not everyone is affected by the flooding of farmland or hunting territories, disposal of waste products, or pollution of water supplies. These problems are disproportionally borne by people who inhabit the margins and periphery of the culture of capitalism. It is peasants, gatherers and hunters, and the poor in general who lose their livelihood when huge hydroelectric projects dam rivers and flood land, when demand for lumber destroys the forests, when nuclear and other waste is disposed of in or near poor communities or shipped to peripheral countries. Furthermore, some people benefit far more than others from the economic activities that affect the environment and, for that reason, are far less likely to object or protest. But at some point environmental damage does and will affect everyone.

Earthfirst!

Most contemporary ecological resistance movements, as Bron Taylor (1995) called them, originated in the 1960s, although concerns about environmental alterations go back to the nineteenth century. Many of these movements seek, as do most peasant, labor, and femi­nist movements, somehow to limit the detrimental effects of capitalist economic expan­sion. Others seek to revolutionize the culture they see as responsible for environmental devastation. Activists in these movements attribute environmental destruction to an ideol­ogy associated with capitalism that human beings must dominate and 'tame' nature; they argue furthermore that this belief emerges directly out of the domination of human beings of other human beings. Consequently, as long as human beings seek domination of others, so will they seek domination over nature and, eventually, destroy the planet. One of these ecological resistance movements is Earthfirst!

Earthfirst! originated in the early 1980s, often with humorous protests, such as un­furling a plastic 'crack' down the face of the Glen Canyon Dam, symbolically freeing the Colorado River. Protests became more confrontational when members blockaded logging roads, conducted 'tree-sits,' or resorted to 'ecotage' or 'monkeywrenching,' by vandal­izing equipment or driving metal, ceramic, or quartz stakes into trees to make their har­vest dangerous and, hence, unprofitable. Earthfirst! clearly promotes an ideology that attributes to the nonhuman world an animate force, expressed in the slogan 'I am the rain-


forest, recently emerged into consciousness, defending myself.' Some events held for Earthfirst! members have mythic significance, such as biologist Aldo Leopold's story of watching the 'green fire' die in the eyes of a wolf he had just shot, or in Paul Watson's description of the intelligence he saw in the eyes of a harpooned whale he was trying to save, an 'intelligencethat spoke wordlessly of compassionthat communicated [that he knew] what we had tried to do'(cited Taylor 1995:15).

Earthfirst! closely identifies with the social protests of indigenous peoples. One of their first symbolic acts was to create a memorial to Apache chief Victorio, whose armed resistance to the European conquest marked for them the effort to preserve the environ­ment (Taylor 1995:18). They have supported and identified with the struggles of indige­nous people in the Amazon to protect the forests and stop destructive oil exploitation. They raised funds for the Ecuadorian Huaorani to clear three- to four-meter-wide corri­dors through the rainforest and plant palm trees to demarcate territory allotted them by the government and prevent 'accidental' colonization of their land. They organized boycotts against lumber from the Sarawak Rainforest to support the resistance of the Penan and Iban tribes. They allied themselves with the Kalinga and the Bontoc peoples of the Phil­ippines to prevent the construction of a dam that would have inundated their villages and burial grounds. In North America they have allied themselves with indigenous groups such as the Apache Survival Coalition and the Coalition for Nitassian comprising Innu and Cree Indians and others, who hope to stop Hydro Quebec's hydroelectric dam projects that would flood thousands of acres of Innu and Cree hunting grounds.

The ties between ecological resistance movements and indigenous protest reveal the extent to which antisystemic protest are intertwined, often bringing together peasants, indigenous peoples, women, and others in common cause. One of the more interesting protest movements that contains strands of different types of protest is Chipko, the at­tempt to save the forests of India. It is particularly interesting because it emerged out of a peasant protest over the conversion of common lands to state control and private exploita­tion, and it resulted in the questioning of one of the central arguments over environmental destruction, the idea of 'the tragedy of the commons.'

Chipko and the Tragedy of the Commons

In his often cited 1968 article, 'Tragedy of the Commons,' Garrett Hardin implied that land held in common is more likely to be abused and exploited than land held privately. Hardin based his argument on the premise that what each person gains individually by ex­ploiting the commons for his or her own ends is far greater than what they individually lose. For example, if a pasture is held in common by a community, each person, said Har­din, has more to gain from adding one more sheep to his or her herd than what they lose individually by their exploitation of the pasture. People are motivated, therefore, to ex­ploit the commons as much as possible, and if each person follows his or her own individ­ual interests by adding more sheep, the commons will soon be destroyed. If each person, however, controlled his or her individual plot, people would be less motivated to damage it since what they gain is clearly offset by what they lose. A contemporary example might ask what each of us has to gain by purchasing an automobile, as opposed to what we lose from the pollution our individual car adds to the environment. Since we gain a lot by


having a car, but individually increase pollution only slightly, we are motivated, as is ev­eryone else, to buy cars.

Hardin's argument is logically ingenious but empirically flawed. Anthropologists, particularly, have argued that communally held land, especially in the periphery, tends to be better preserved and regulated than privately owned resources (see McCay and Fort-mann 1996; Fratkin 1997a:240-242). A good example is that of the forests in northern India and the Chipko movement.

Chipko (literally 'to hug') originated in nineteenth-century peasant protests over the destruction of the forests of northern India that were once described by British colonial offi­cials as 'inexhaustible.' The peasants in the area lived largely on small-scale agriculture, livestock herding, and gathering and hunting in the surrounding forests. The society was or­ganized into castes, that is hereditary occupational groups into which each person married.

Agricultural land in most villages was owned by the people who worked it, with a portion of what they produced serving as their share of village revenue payable in tribute or taxes to area rulers or British colonial authorities. The surrounding forests were man­aged collectively. The forests were a necessary feature of economic life as a place for grazing animals, for medicinal herbs, and for food. Moreover, the forests held spiritual significance as a place of deities and shrines. There were particularly magnificent species of trees, and while there was no formal management, protection of the forests was secured by the ritual significance of areas and by rules that abusers of the forests would suffer boycott or exclusion from the forest (Guha 1990:33-34).

The isolation of the area left it largely untouched until 1878, when the colonial gov­ernment passed regulations closing segments of the forest to peasant use and designating some areas for lease to private developers. The government was particularly interested in certain trees suitable for the construction of railway sleeper cars for the expanding Indian railway. British colonial regulations fixed the amount of building timber the peasantry could use, restricted grazing rights to certain types of forests within a five-mile radius of the villages, and even specified where dry grass could be gathered. The government also banned burning of the forest floors that peasants had used to grow and gather wild grass.

Peasants protested their exclusion from portions of the forests; they ignored the reg­ulations, continuing to graze their animals and cut wood for their own use. They also burned the underbrush in the forests where new saplings had been planted by lumber in­terests for later harvesting. But the most violent form of protest was incendiarism, the de­liberate setting of fires in the forests. In 1919-1920 there were 13,457 breaches of the fire laws in one area of northern India.

Restrictions on peasant use of the forests, exploitation of lumber, and peasant protest continued after India gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947 because the new Indian government, faced with the need to raise revenue, continued the forestry policies of the British colonial government. The results were continuing forest destruction, alienation of the peasants from the forests they had protected for centuries, and continuing protest. In 1962 a new road was built into the forest with funding from the World Bank, further increas­ing forest exploitation. Satellite photographs reveal that of the 34,042 square kilometers of land declared as forests in the area, only 6.6 percent has good tree cover, and another 22.5 percent has medium tree cover, and another 13.8 percent has poor tree cover. Over half the land classified as forest has no tree cover at all (Guha 1990:146).


Two events triggered the emergence of an organized environmental protest move­ment. First, floods in the foothills in 1970 resulted in the loss of life and property; the population recognized that losses were greater in villages that lay below land on which forests had been destroyed. The second thing that triggered Chipko was the awarding of rights to a cricket bat manufacturer to cut trees after a peasant cooperative had been denied rights to cut trees in the same forest to make farm implements. It was then that or­ganizers thought of wrapping themselves around (hugging) trees to prevent their being cut. Women gained prominence in the movement because of an attempt by the govern­ment to deceive one village by calling the men of the village to a meeting, while they sent in laborers to cut the forest; however, the women of the village, alerted by a young girl, placed themselves between the laborers and the trees and forced the laborers to leave. In another area, 5,000 trees were marked for cutting, and villagers camped out in the forests until men hired by a private company were forced to withdraw.

Chipko has become just one of many such protests against forest destruction in the Himalayan foothills, but it is by far the most publicized and soon gained broad interna­tional appeal as both an environmental and a women's movement. Often forgotten, how­ever, are the peasant roots of the protest: it began as a struggle for subsistence before it emerged as a movement for environmental preservation.

Ramachandra Guha, in The Unquiet Woods (1990), noted some other interesting lessons in Chipko that relate to social protest in general and peasant protest in particular. First, Chipko reveals how, as in the cases of Kenya and Mexico, policies of 'economic de­velopment,' or 'modernization' formulated at the top levels of states, corporations, and international financial institutions are often experienced by lower levels—such as peas­ants, women, and laborers—as exploitation. In the strategies of economic development, indigenous peoples, landless peasants, and women are expected to bear the brunt of in­dustrialization; such problems as disease, social unrest, food scarcity, and land hunger testify to the impact of this process (Guha 1990:195). Moreover, while the negative social and economic consequences on the poor in the periphery of programs of economic devel­opment are well documented, often ignored is the impact on the environment and the social protest that is likely to ensue. Guha (1990:195-196) concluded,

[f]rom an ecological perspective, therefore, peasant movements like Chipko are not merely a defense of the little community and its values, but also an affirmation of a way of life more harmoniously adjusted with natural processes. At one level they are defensive, seeking to escape the tentacles of the commercial economy and the centralizing state; at yet another level they are assertive, actively challenging the ruling-class vision of a homogenizing urban-indus­trial culture. Far from being the dying wail of a class about to drop down the trapdoor of history, the call of Chipko represents one of the most innovative responses to the ecological and cultural crisis of modern society. It is a message we may neglect at our own peril.

Conclusion

We suggested in this chapter that rebellion and protest that seems endemic to the culture of capitalism is largely antisystemic, consisting of responses of groups who at some time were socially or economically marginalized or who have suffered disproportionately in


the expansion of capitalism into the periphery. However, it is important to note that in only a few cases is protest directed explicitly at the culture of capitalism itself. Rather, protesters select as objects of their protest groups or individuals who they hold individu­ally responsible. We saw in the case of the protests of poor Malaysian peasants that the object of their ire was peasants who were richer than themselves, rather than the green revolution or the institutions, such as the World Bank, that ultimately were responsible for their distress. Likewise, laborers in the coal mines of Pennsylvania blamed mine opera­tors, many of whom made virtually no profit from their efforts, rather than the system that drove them and the mine operators to try to accumulate capital in a failing industry. In other words, rarely do social protest movements specifically attack the system that is the source of their distress, instead focusing on real or symbolic figures who, for them, embody their oppression.




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