Rear View

Sick society

‘Many Turkish womens’ right groups say the crackdown reflects a wider societal problem. They say many women who are being abused seek — but never receive — proper help. Melek Önder of the We Will Stop Femicide initiative told DW that Turkish police, the government and state officials must do much more to protect women at risk: “There were cases where women who were being violently abused asked for help, but nothing happened,” she says’ (, 24 July). The crackdown on protests is hardly surprising under the would-be Sultan, Erdoğan. Calling for wife beating to become a priority concern for the police, who prefer not to get involved, and thus give their tacit endorsement, is reformist folly, particularly when there are so many reactionaries such as Ebru Asiltürk, ‘the spokeswoman for womens’ affairs for Turkey’s Islamic conservative Saadet Party.’ She opined recently that ‘…the treaty [Istanbul Convention to tackle violence again women and domestic abuse, as well as promoting gender equality – which Turkey was, ironically, the first country to ratify!] would be like a “bomb” destroying Turkey’s traditional family structure.’ Femicide is indeed an indication of serious, wider social and sexual problems that are not confined to a small minority of deviants or reactionary regimes – Poland is another example – but are typical of a sick society. Neither changes in the law and policing policy, nor more prosecutions against wife beaters offer a cure.

Cultural pain and pleasure

‘The UK’s only centre dedicated to stamping out female genital mutilation is facing closure after the government pulled its funding, putting women at fresh risk of harm. Cash has been quietly withdrawn from the unit – set up by Theresa May, when she vowed to end FGM “within a generation” [likely as effective as Tony Blair’s 1999 pledge to end child poverty] – leaving it struggling to survive…The crisis comes despite hundreds of new victims of FGM being identified every month and just one successful prosecution for the practice, despite laws being on the books for 35 years’ (, 26 July). Women supporting the status-quo or reactionary cultural/religious practices abound, alas.

Back to the primitive?

There may be some socialists who would like to see the return of the woolly mammoth, but none favour primitive communism over the establishment of a post-capitalist world. Lotte Alberg, who owns two sex clubs in Amsterdam’s famous red-light district, is relieved to see her staff back at work. Club BonTon and Club LV both reopened this week after four months of lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic’ (, 6 July). To Alberg and Fuambai Ahmadu, an anthropologist who chose clitoridectomy as an adult, we say the only place for prostitution and FGM in a world freed from the dictates of capital and culture will be at the museum of antiquities. Engels showed that the suppression of women had its origin in the rise of private property. Marx saw sex work as ’only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the labourer’ (Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts, 1844). Rosa Luxemburg and Sylvia Pankhurst shared the socialist vision of Engels and Marx:

‘The mass of the proletariat must do more than stake out clearly the aims and direction of the revolution. It must also personally, by its own activity, bring socialism step by step into life’ (Rosa Luxemburg, What Does the Spartacus League Want?, 1918).

‘Our aim is Communism. Communism is not an affair of party. It is a theory of life and social organisation. It is a life in which property is held in common; in which the community produces, by conscious aim, sufficient to supply the needs of all its members; in which there is no trading, money, wages, or any direct reward for services rendered’ (Sylvia Pankhurst, What is behind the label? A plea for clearness, 1923).

Mother and daughter

Emmeline Pankhurst

The decade leading up to 1914 and the ‘War to End All Wars’ was they heyday of the Suffragette movement under the leadership of Sylvia Pankhurst’s mother, Emmeline. Some readers may be intrigued surprised to learn that we opposed her and the Women’s Social and Political Union she founded in 1903.

Sylvia Pankhurst is better known for her part in the campaign for votes for all women as well as all men (one third of whom were denied the vote before 1918). Her mother, Emmeline, the authoritarian leader of the WSPU, was against this and campaigned instead only for votes for women on the same terms as then applied to men; which would have resulted in enfranchising more property-owners than workers. Opposing that was a no-brainer.

When Sylvia Pankurst wrote the passage above she had come to hold the (mistaken) position that the vote didn’t matter either for men or for women, arguing that communism (or socialism, she used both words to describe the same form of society) could only be achieved by anti-parliamentary action. A few years later, in 1927, Emmeline, who had been a jingoist in the First World War, was adopted as a Conservative Party parliamentary candidate; not surprising for someone who had stood for votes only for rich women.

Socialism can only be achieved with the majority support of women and of men. This point is so important that it forms part of our Declaration of Principles: ‘That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind, without distinction of race or sex‘ (emphasis added). This clause along with the other seven dates from the formation of our Party in 1904. Yes, the founding members, all 142 of them from Miss H. Aitken to H. J. Young, were remarkably forward-thinking in their assertion that women’s emancipation could only be achieved as part of the emancipation of all humanity through the establishment of socialism as described above by Sylvia Pankhurst.

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