Posts Tagged ‘Alexis De Tocqueville’

Anti-Feminist Pamphlets from Tory Free Market Thinktank

July 23, 2016

feminism pamphlets

The pamphlets in question. Picture courtesy CJ.

This will annoy nearly every woman and also a very large number of men. Looking round one of the charity bookshops in Cheltenham yesterday with a friend, I found a whole load of pamphlets from the Institute of Economic Affairs. They’re a right-wing, free market thinktank connected with the Tory party. I think they were also trying to promote themselves as non-party political when Tony Blair was in power, as I think he was also very sympathetic to their message. Put simply, their pro-privatisation, anti-welfare, anti-poor – one of the pamphlet’s was Alexis de Tocqueville’s Pauperism, anti-Socialist – another was Von Hayek’s Socialism and the Intellectuals. And anti-feminist. Two of the pamphlets were anti-feminist screeds, intended to encourage women to forget any notions of equality, independence and a career, and return to their traditional roles as wives and mothers.

The two pamphlets were entitled Liberating Modern Women…From Feminism and Equal Opportunities – A Feminist Fallacy. They were collections of essays on individual subjects within the overall theme of rebutting feminism. The contributors seemed to be an equal number of men and women. Among the policies they recommended were measures to preserve the family from break up and end ‘no fault’ divorces. They claimed that men and women pursue different goals because of innate biological differences. And rather than being a patriarchal institution, the family was actually a matriarchy. They also attacked women working, because it meant that the household economy was now based on two people having an income, whereas before it was only the husband’s wage that was important. And, almost inevitably, there was an attack on single mothers. Left-wing welfare policies were attacked for taking them out of the jobs market and placing them into ‘welfare dependency’.

My friend decided to buy them to see how extreme, shocking and bonkers they actually were. Though he insisted that I tell the woman on the desk when paying for them that we we’re buying them because we agreed with them, which raised a smile from her. While walking round town afterwards he said he would have felt less embarrassed holding these pamphlets if he’d had something less offensive to put them in, to disguise the fact that he had them. Like one of the porno mags. I didn’t recognise most of the contributors to the pamphlets, but one name stood out: Mary Kenny. She had been a journalist for the Guardian or Observer, but moved to the Torygraph. My friend was also shocked, as the Institute of Economic Affairs has been on Channel 4 News several times. It’s one of the organisations they’ve gone to for ‘balance’ discussing particular issues. My friend’s point is that they’re policies are so extreme, they really aren’t providing any kind of reasoned balance at all, just more far-right opinion.

There’s an attitude amongst some Republicans in America that feminism really is a terrible Marxist plot to destroy Western civilisation, despite the fact that it existed before Marxism, and its campaigns for votes for women and equal opportunities cross party-political boundaries. Despite the institute’s arguments, there really isn’t one of their views that isn’t vulnerable to disproof. For example, it’s true that men and women tend to perform different jobs, and have different personal goals and attitudes. But it’s very debatable how far this is due to biological differences. A few years ago, back in the 1990s there was a lot of interest and noise about supposed sex differences in the organisation of the brain. Men’s and women’s brains were made differently, and this was why men were better at maths and parking cars, and women were better at language and communication, but couldn’t read maps. Since then, the situation has reversed slightly. One female neuroscientist, Cordelia – , wrote a book a few years ago arguing that any psychological differences and intellectual aptitudes that differed between the sexes weren’t due to physical differences in the brain. With the exception of individuals at the extreme ends of the scale – very ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ brains, brains are just brains, and you can’t tell their former owner’s sex simply by looking at them.

As for feminism itself, it’s probably fair to say that many women do feel caught between their careers and their families, and would like more time to spend raising or attending to their children. But their entry into the workforce, and pursuing jobs, hobbies and interests previously reserved for men are the product of profound needs and desires on their behalf. It isn’t a case that they have been somehow brainwashed or indoctrinated by some kind of feminist ‘false consciousness’. For example, you can hear from older women how they felt when they were young, when they wanted to play with boy’s toys, like train or construction sets, like Meccano, but were forbidden by their parents. Or wanted to try their hand at ‘boy’s’ subjects at school, like woodwork. Or join in with boy’s games like footie or rugby. This doesn’t mean that all women wanted to do all of the above, only that a sizable number did want to do some of those, and felt frustrated at the social conventions that forbade them to. When the feminists in the 1960s argued that women had a right to do traditionally male jobs and pursuits, they were articulating the desires of very many women. They weren’t just abstract theorists speaking only for themselves.

As for the statement that the entry of women into the workforce has made family finances more difficult, because mortgages are now based on a double income, that’s also very open to query. It might be that the change to women working has had an effect, but I’ve also seen the argument that women had to go out to work, because the income from the husband’s wages alone wasn’t enough to pay the bills.

As for the family being a ‘matriarchal’ institution, the status of women has changed over time. But in the Middle Ages, women were basically their husband’s chattels. And in the West, women didn’t automatically have a right to hold their property independently of their husbands until the Married Women’s Property Act in the late 19th century. One of the early feminist tracts from 19th century Germany was a polemic attacking the way women’s property automatically became their husband’s on marriage.

I’m alarmed by the break down of the traditional family, rising divorces and absent fathers. I always have been, ever since we did ‘relationships’ as part of the RE course at school, when the news was full of it. But part of the problem isn’t the ease of divorce, although it became more difficult and expensive when Blair was in power. It’s the fact that many people do find themselves trapped in unhappy relationships. Some idea how much of a problem this was can be seen in some of the jokes about how awful marriage was and quarrelling spouses. At a far more serious level, you can also see it in accounts of men, who walked out on their families, and took up bigamous marriages elsewhere in the days when divorce was difficult and all but impossible unless you were very wealthy.

The two pamphlets were published a little time ago. One dated from 1992 – twenty-four years ago -, and the other from 2005, about eleven. But they represent an attitude that’s still very present in the Conservatives, and especially in right-wing newspapers like the Daily Heil. A week ago the Tories elected Theresa May as their leader, and will no doubt be presenting themselves as the ‘pro-woman’ party. This shows the other side to them, the one that’s beyond and underneath Cameron’s rhetoric of flexible-working hours, and the Tories’ embrace of female leaders like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May.

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The Overthrow of the French Parliament by the Workers in the 1848 Revolution

April 20, 2014

1848 Book pic

Peter Jones in his book The 1848 Revolutions (Harlow: Longman 1981) describes the events of February 1848 in Paris, which culminated in a mob of workers storming the French Chamber of Deputies to overthrow the government and the monarchy:

On 20 February 1848 the reformers and the opposition to Guizot’s government in France made plans to hold a political banquet in Paris. the banquet was banned by the government and, as a result, the common people of Paris held a procession through the streets in protest against the decision. Their leaders presented a petition to the Chamber of Deputies demanding Guizot’s resignation.

The discontent against the government, and against Guizot in particular, had been growing during 1847 but then it had largely been a campaign of middle-class politicians. Now it was the cause of the common people of Paris and on 22 February 1848 the police had to clear an unruly crowd in the Place de la Madeleine. The next day the King, Louis Philippe, dismissed Guizot and called on Mole to lead the government. But this concession had come too late, because on the same evening a great throng of people had made their way along the Boulevard des Capucines to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs only to find their passage blocked by a troop of cavalry and infantry. According to Victor Hugo, the people at the head of the procession tried to stop and turn aside, ‘but the irresistible pressure of the huge crowd weighed on the front ranks’. A shot rang out, and in the panic that followed a whole volley was fired. At least forty people were killed. The victims were piled on a cart lit with torches and within a few hours the city was blocked with barricades.

On the following morning, 24 February, Alexis de Tocqueville, a prominent member of the Chamber of Deputies, left his house feeling that he could ‘scent revolution in the air’. A group of men gathered round him and asked for news, and he warned them that the only real danger to the government was if they themselves got too excited and took matters to extremes. ‘”That’s all very well, sir,” they said, “the government has got itself into this fix by its own fault; so let it get itself out as best it can …”‘ Louis Philippe had done just that – he had abdicated that same afternoon and a Provisional Government had been set up.

The Provisional Government would probably have decided in favour of a Regency but the invasion of the Chamber of Deputies by a crowd of workers on the afternoon of 24 February pushed the Provisional Government towards a republic. Paris was now in the hands of the workers and the ‘dangerous classes’. Earlier that day they had invaded the Tuileries Palace and dumped Louis Philippe’s empty throne in the courtyard. According to Flaubert the ‘common herd ironically wrapped up in laces and cashmeres … Hats with ostrich feathers adorned blacksmiths’ heads, and ribbons of the Legion of Honour supplied waistbands for the prostitutes’. Lamartine, who was popular with the people, nevertheless witnessed the invasion of the Chamber of Deputies with fear:

‘They crowded the corridors, and rushed with their cries of mortal combat into the spectators’ galleries. Their clothes torn, their shirts open, their arms bare, their fists clenched and resembling muscular clubs, their hair wildly dishevelled, and singed with cartridges, their countenances maddened with the delirium of revolution, their eyes smitten with the spectacle, so novel to them, presented by the Chamber … all revealed them as desperadoes, who were come to make the last assault on the last refuge of royalty.’

They were armed with pikes, bayonets, and sabres. ‘Down with the Regency!’ they shouted, ‘The Republic forever’. Their demonstration meant that the new Provisional Government was forced to include the Socialists Louis Blanc and Flocon, as well as a solitary but symbolic worker, Albert. (pp. 1-2).

From France, the revolutionary movement spread to Bavaria, Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Milan and Palermo. It did not last. They soon fizzled out and were brutally suppressed. In France the forces of the Right regrouped, the Revolution was suppressed and the Provisional Government was replaced by the new monarchy of Napoleon III.

The Workers’ Uprising in the ‘June Days’

The workers rose up again in June in protest at the closure of the National Workshops providing work for the unemployed. Alexis de Tocqueville, the nobleman, whose book on Democracy in America is still one of the great texts of political science, states that they were motivated from hunger.

In that city there were a hundred thousand armed workmen formed into regiments, without work and dying of hunger. Society was cut in two: those who had nothing united in common envy; those who had anything united in common terror. There were no longer ties of sympathy linking these two great classes, and a struggle was everywhere assumed to be inevitable soon… (De Tocqueville, Recollections, in Jones, p. 83).

We Need a Campaign, Not Revolution, to Put Workers and Socialists in Government Today

We don’t need a revolution in this country, with violence and bloodshed. What we do need are more mass demonstrations and pressure on the government and the political parties to change their policies. Now as then, people are starving. Mike over at Vox Political and the other bloggers has estimated that about 55,000 people are dying per year due to government sanctions. The rate could be as high as 78,000. This is massively unreported. Stilloaks over on his blog gives the names and the stories of some of the victims.

Furthermore, the working class are massively under-represented in government and parliament. All the parties are eager to chase the votes of the aspiring middle class, and while there is in itself nothing wrong with this, it has been done at the expense of the working class. Earlier generations of Labour politicians included people from the working class, who made their way into parliament from the trade unions. One of the earliest Labour politicians to be elected to Westminster was an agricultural worker, and gave his autobiography, I believe, the title of ‘From Plough to Parliament’. Ernest Bevin, Labour’s Foreign Minister under Clement Atlee, was a dock worker and founder, with Harry Gosling, of the Transport and General Workers’ Union. Tony Blair and Ed Milliband have tried to loosen the Party’s links with the unions. And many of the modern ranks of politicians across the political spectrum come from very middle class backgrounds. Instead of trade union activism, they frequently come from a more academic background, having read of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Uni. The Tory and Tory Cabinet are a demonstration of this middle and upper class domination of politics and parliament. They are nearly all toffs with connections to banking and finance.

And the class composition of parliament and the parties shows in the parties’ economic and welfare policies. Any kind of nationalisation is considered unacceptable as they have adopted, to a greater or lesser extent, Thatcherite Neoliberalism. The government’s welfare policies, rather than address problems with the economy as the cause of poverty, blame the workers themselves for being too lazy or ill-prepared to find a job themselves. The result is a policy of punitive sanctions and highly coercive measures forcing the unemployed to work for their benefits to enrich private industry.

It’s time this stopped. We need proper, Socialist economic measures and the members and representatives of the working class back in parliament. The 1848 Revolution put, at least for a time, the Socialists Louis Blanc and Flocon in government, along with Albert, a worker. This was celebrated and praised as an example of what universal suffrage could achieve by the great German Socialist leader, Ferdinand Lassalle. The time is long overdue when a British government also included Socialists and workers.