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Susan Green

Of Special Interest to Women

(3 June 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 22, 3 June 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Opposed to every effort concerned with liberating human beings and raising them to higher levels of existence, is the obstacle known as exploitation. For exploitation thrived on the enslavement of people, and will adamantly hinder progress until the exploited people get rid of it.

If I had sat down to write a skit or one-act play to prove the above statement, I could not have done better than was unconsciously done by the seven women who met early this month as the subcommission on the status of women under the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. These women gathered to recommend to the Commission on Human Rights a program for the advancement of women. Agreement was easily arrived at on questions of political rights, economic and educational equality and certain social improvements. Such generalities are always easily agreed upon – in principle. But when it came to discussing specific aspects of women’s enslavement, such as polygamy and prostitution which flourish so abundantly in the most backward, poverty-stricken and exploited colonies, there was deep disagreement.

As if presented on a stage or screen, it was demonstrated how the women representing France and Denmark, countries with colonies and the unshaken greed to exploit these colonies through the continued enslavement of the people, aligned themselves against the women representing India, Lebanon and the Dominican Republic, countries that have known the deepest degradation at the hands of imperialist exploiters.

Women Representatives of Imperialism

The topic under discussion was “marriage,” and the “dignity of the wife” was sought to be clarified by the women to whom the indignity of polygamy is not merely a phrase. Miss Angela Jurdak from Lebanon asked: “I’d like to know if dignity of the wife includes wiping out polygamy? If not, may we include that problem, which concerns vast areas of the world?”

Instantly Mme. Helene Lefaucheux of France sniffed a threat to French imperialism. She said that there are huge regions in the French colonies where polygamy is practiced as a custom. “I don’t think we are here to discuss customs,” she said. But why not? Doesn’t progress mean to abolish bad social, political and economic customs? Yes, of course, but not when more enlightened social customs may lead to more political enlightenment about French imperialism! Mme. Lefaucheux is a defender of the French ruling class and understands that for enslaved people to change their customs is to undermine the whole structure of slavery.

Mrs. Hansa Mehta of India retorted with the logic of the enslaved seeking freedom. “If we want to raise the status of women we have to fight customs. We should not be afraid. There are many regions where child marriages exist, just as polygamy does. That must be fought against too.”

Mrs. Bodil Bergtrup of Denmark, alert to the interests of Netherlands imperialism, displayed a light-hearted unconcern about the debasement of colonial women and saw fit to throw in a joke. “There are also areas where women can have more men than one.” Ah, yes; areas in Copenhagen and Paris where women of the ruling class can have as much of everything, including men, that money can buy!

But Mme. Lefaucheux was not in a joking mood. “I cannot support this proposal [to fight polygamy] because I think it will provoke a great number of women who are interested in our work but will not be able to share our point of view.” What women would be opposed to lifting fellow women out of degradation? Certainly not the working women of France, but the women on the top shelf, women whose station in society depends on the continuation of colonial slavery.

Also shedding light on the true character of representatives of imperialist nations was the contribution to the discussion of prostitution made by Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, an ex-officio member of the subcommittee who, as we all know, is a liberal.

Mrs. Roosevelt and Prostitution

To the progressive women of the colonial countries, the traffic in women and female children is the measure of the bondage of their sex. To these women it is no academic topic for discussion whether or not to lift their sisters out of the gutters and market places. Education for all women, training for useful work, opportunity to do useful work and a high standard of living to provide jobs for all are the essence of the solution of prostitution, and the representatives of the colonial areas pressed for agreement on these points.

But the liberal Mrs. Roosevelt, looking down her nose from the height of well-being and culture that is hers as a member of the American ruling class, summarily stated: “Your report is going to be longer than that of the human rights commission to which you are reporting. I don’t think the subject has the slightest place in this report.” A technical objection, indeed, to a question of such human importance and so basic in raising the status of women!

Of course, in the long run the report covered all subjects and presumably satisfied everybody. It included a section on prostitution, and if it didn’t exactly come out to fight polygamy – and thereby ruffle the tempers of the French elite – it at any rate favored monogamy. But all this is form without substance.

The substance was revealed in the attitudes of the women representing the imperialist nations – nations which dominate the United Nations and all the councils and subdivisions thereof. Self-interest for power and profit, exploitation of classes and peoples by the ruling rich, these are the inhuman motives behind the scene, and they will never bring liberation to women, or oppressed races, or enslaved peoples.

When the motives of society are changed then there are results. When the workers and peasants of Russia made their social revolution in 1917 and established a workers’ government, when with that act they toppled from power the exploiting landlords and capitalists, in days and weeks more human progress was effected than in decades and centuries of capitalist exploitation. New avenues of social, political and economic endeavor opened up to women. They became co-partners with men in their effort to build a society free from exploitation.

It is symbolic of the counter-revolution and the new exploitation imposed on the Russian people by Stalin and his ruling bureaucrats, that Russia did not even see fit to send a representative to the subcommission on the status of women. Why should they? They have again reduced Russian womankind to the level of breeding cattle, and that is the way they want it.

In a world dominated by capitalist imperialism and Stalinist bureaucratic imperialism, there can be little hope for a higher status for the women of the world, just as there can be little hope for equality of races, just as there can be no lasting peace. Humanity Will make a leap forward towards liberty and peace and economic well-being when it lays the foundation for a world of socialist brotherhood ruled by human values.

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