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 man—when I could get it—and 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
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
peasants, and others in the
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
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.
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
unions and labor-led political parties arose in the
At the same time, workers in
revolutionary states, including
Movements. As working-class movements in Europe and the
their independence in the
nineteenth century. The countries of Asia and
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
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
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
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
The Revolution of 1968
The revolution of 1968 was marked
Demonstrators outside the Democratic National Convention in
state militia. In
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
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
The Protests of Labor: Coal Miners in Nineteenth-Century
In St. Clair, Anthony F.
C. Wallace (1987) offered an intimate glimpse of life in the nineteenth-century
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
Coal mining in
the anthracite region of southeastern
Each mine in
force in the mine was also divided by ethnic group; the top jobs were held by migrants
from areas with a coal mining tradition—
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.
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
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.
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
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.
effective strike occurred in 1868, when the
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.
to Irish protest against discrimination, both on the job and off, were the Molly
Maguires. The term Molly Maguires originated in the south of
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.
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
was a secret society operating in the coal fields of
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
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
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.
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
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
Global Feminist Resistance
In September 1995, representatives from
nongovernmental organizations all over the world gathered in
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
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
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.
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
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
(1979) summarized these changes in
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.
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
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
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
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
socialist revolution of 1959 in
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
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
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
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
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.'
illustrate, Ong related the story of the Sisters in Islam, a group of
Western-educated feminists who are trying to change gender relations in
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:
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.
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!
originated in the early 1980s, often with humorous protests, such as unfurling
a plastic 'crack' down the face of the Glen Canyon Dam, symbolically
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
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
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
(literally 'to hug') originated in nineteenth-century peasant
protests over the destruction of the forests of northern
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.
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
on peasant use of the forests, exploitation of lumber, and peasant protest continued
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
[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.
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
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