On the occasion of 8th March, 2010, the beginning of the centenary year of International Women’s Day, the Congress Party led UPA Government is tabling the Women’s Reservation Bill as its gift to the women of India. The aim of this Bill is to create reserved constituencies for women in every Lok Sabha and state assembly election, as the way to guarantee that at least one third of seats in these legislative bodies are occupied by women. This move has been welcomed by many parties including the BJP and the Communist Party of India (Marxist).
The truth is that the Lok Sabha is not really in the hands of the lok, the people. Political parties of capitalists dominate the electoral process, and those who are elected follow the ‘whip’ or command of their respective parties. One party or a coalition controls the Cabinet, which has wide ranging executive powers. The role of the legislative bodies is to legitimize what the Cabinet does, or to bring down the ruling party through a vote of no confidence. The role of the people in this process is limited to casting their votes once in a few years, to choose among candidates who are by and large selected by the leadership of Congress, BJP and other bourgeois parties. Elections only serve to legitimize the rule of one or another party of the capitalist class. It is therefore a capitalist democracy. The Constitution of the Indian Republic, its fundamental law, is designed to keep political power firmly in the hands of the capitalist class. Increasing the number of women in the Lok Sabha and the state assemblies will not change this class nature of the existing democracy.
On the historic occasion of the centenary of International Women’s Day, the Communist Ghadar Party of India calls on the women of our country to set the political aim of the women’s movement as nothing less than a new state power, a new Constitution and a new political system and process.
The new state power we want is the rule of workers and peasants -- men and women, young and old. It means a qualitative change in the nature of democracy – from being the rule of an exploiting minority to being the rule of the toiling majority. Only with political power in their hands can the working women and men of India reorient the economy to fulfil their basic needs on an ongoing and extended basis, taking into account the rise in human needs from one year to the next. Fulfilling the material needs of all human beings through extended reproduction organised on the basis of social property will open the path for the complete emancipation of women and the working class, from all forms of exploitation of one person by another.
Comrades and sisters!
One hundred years ago, working women in Europe and in the United States rose up against capitalist exploitation, and demanded their rights as workers and as women. They demanded that the right to vote be made universal for all adult women and men. The working class in all capitalist countries struggled for the rights of working women, while the bourgeoisie did not want to accept these rights. It was not in the interest of the bourgeoisie to strengthen the vote of the working class in parliament; and in every country they hindered the passing of laws that gave this right to working women.
In 1910, at the Second International Conference of Working Women, well known communist activist Clara Zetkin brought forward the question of organizing an International Working Women’s Day. The conference decided that every year, in every country, they should celebrate on the same day a “Women’s Day”. The first such celebration in 1911 was held under the slogan “The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism”. The struggle for the right to vote helped to galvanise women into action at that time. It spurred tens of thousands of women to attend meetings and demonstrations, and become part of a social movement for change.
Over the past 100 years, the struggle of working women for their political rights has become a powerful force for social progress all over the world. Women from the working class and peasant families, and from the progressive intelligentsia, have played an important role in all the major movements for progress, including the socialist revolution in Russia and the end of colonial rule in India. The most conscious and courageous among them have taken up the cause of communism, and played leading and active roles in building and strengthening the Communist Party to lead the working class in revolution in many countries.
The demand for the right to vote was part of the struggle for socialism 100 years ago, at a time when many working men were also denied this right. Today, life experience has shown that gaining the right to vote was a necessary step, but it is not sufficient. Women and men have the right to vote in many countries, as they do in India. However, the vast majority of women and men are nevertheless helpless victims of capitalist economic development and imperialist wars.They are the victims of state terrorism, racism and communal violence. They have no share in political power, which is concentrated in the hands of professional politicians of the bourgeois class.
In the existing political system and process the people’s role begins and ends on voting day. The agenda is set by an exploiting minority; and implemented by the ruling party or coalition. This political system and process have served the capitalist class very well.It has not and will not serve the interests of women or the interests of the working class and toiling peasants.
What women and the working people need is a different kind of democracy where we, the majority, set the agenda and control those who are elected, making sure that they implement the agreed upon agenda.
We need a new political system where people do not put parties in power, but parties have the duty of working to keep people in power. We need to redefine electoral laws and rules so that the right to select candidates belongs to the people in their work places and residential areas. Political parties must not be permitted to usurp this right that belongs to the people. People’s organisations such as workers’ unions and women’s organisations must be able to select candidates from among their peers. The voters must have the right to initiate legislation, hold elected representatives to account, and to recall them at any time. All those elected must be responsible for governing. The executive must be subordinate to the legislative body, and that legislative body must be subordinate to the people who elected it and gave it the power to govern. Judges must be elected and accountable to the people.
We need a new Constitution that will vest supreme decision making power with the people. It must guarantee the rights of every human being and their collective right to rule themselves. We need enabling laws and enforcing mechanisms to make sure that the rights of women or men are not violated under any pretext.
Comrades and sisters!
Women of India fought shoulder to shoulder with men to put an end to British colonial rule. They fought with the hope and aspiration that the system of exploitation and plunder established by the British would be replaced by a new system that would ensure prosperity and protection for all. However, the Congress Party leaders, representing the capitalists and landlords, limited the scope of the anti-colonial movement to political independence, without
Sitting in the Constituent Assembly, the Congress Party leaders chose to retain the basic foundations of the political system established by the British bourgeoisie to enslave and plunder India. They wanted their class to ascend the throne vacated by the white man. Having inherited the colonial power and its state apparatus, the Indian bourgeoisie has further perfected it in its own interest.
The track record of sixty years of the Indian Republic shows that it is the capitalist class that has gained substantially from this democracy. The big capitalists have used the Indian Republic to accumulate wealth and power to such an extent that they are staking their claim to be a major global imperialist power today.
Sixty years of capitalist democracy have not swept away the yoke of the old forms of oppression of women, such as the Brahmanical caste system and the various religious strictures on the role of women in the family and in society. The growth of capitalism has brought forth new forms of exploitation and oppression of women. It has raised the degree of violence and crimes against women. It has perpetuated the old forms of oppression and used them to further intensify the exploitation of women.
Working women of India were among the first to declare that the Nehruvian ‘socialistic pattern of society’ had not delivered on its promises. They were also among the first to raise their voices against the anti-people program of globalisation through liberalisation and privatisation. Women have been in the forefront of the resistance to the criminalisation of politics, to state terrorism and sectarian violence of all kinds.
In the course of participating in the women’s movement, the women activists of the Communist Ghadar Party of India have repeatedly and patiently explained to their sisters that women need a new kind of political power to change the economic conditions that perpetuate our oppression and super-exploitation. Such a power can only be wielded by the workers, peasants, women and youth – by all those who stand to gain from overthrowing the bourgeoisie and by replacing capitalism with socialism.
The bourgeois class and all its parties are dead set against political power passing out of their privileged hands. They want to continue depriving the people of power through elite accommodation. They want to limit the scope of the women’s movement to the demand for accommodation of more women within the existing political power. They do not want to change the basic foundations of this political system. They only want to increase the number of women who learn to participate in this system of preserving bourgeois rule. This is the aim underlying the Women’s Reservation Bill that is being promoted as a gift to the Indian women on 8th March, 2010.
Women must not fall for this illusion of power. We must continue our struggle for real power in our hands, that is, in the hands of the workers, peasants, women and youth who together constitute the vast majority in society.
Comrades and sisters!
The first step towards achieving our aim is to build and bring to power a united front of all those resisting the bourgeois offensive, led by the working class and its vanguard party. We must build the foundations of the new state power, in the form of people’s samitis in the mohallas, bastis and villages, to resist the attacks of the bourgeoisie and assert the rights of the people. Women have a key role to play in building and strengthening their own fighting organisations, in building the organs of people’s power and in building the vanguard party.
A revolutionary government formed by a front of workers, peasants, women and youth would take immediate steps to halt the capitalist offensive, reconstitute the system of democracy and reorient the economy to provide for all. Such a government would take immediate steps to convene an elected Constituent Assembly, to draft a new Constitution to replace the existing 1950 Constitution.
If working women and men have the power to make decisions regarding the economy, then and only then can we get rid of exploitation and oppression of workers, of peasants, and of women. Preserving the existing capitalist democracy, making it look more acceptable by filling the legislative bodies with more bourgeois women, is aimed at blocking the path to the real empowerment of women and men of the working class.
Comrades and sisters!
Only a party that wants to empower the masses of working people will enable women to participate actively at all levels within it, including its leading bodies. The Communist Ghadar Party of India is such a party, which has from its birth paid serious attention to the active participation of women in its ranks. Women are today active in leading positions, including in the Central Committee of CGPI. Secretaries of some of the largest regional committees of the party are women. The active and leading role played by women is a sign of the party’s commitment to enable women to lead the way for society in this 21st century, shoulder to shoulder with the leaders among men.
Only a society that respects human labour will respect the role of women. Conversely, a society that treats human labour as an object of exploitation will also treat women as objects of pleasure and oppression. This is the truth that the working women realized 100 years ago. This truth is valid today as well. It is only socialism that can emancipate women from their oppression.
The struggle for socialism needs to be waged on the basis of the most up-to-date theory, based on summing up the experience of the past 100 years and more. The struggle for socialism today includes the struggle for the renewal of democracy. Women need to be in the forefront of this struggle to establish democracy on new foundations – with a new state power, new Constitution and a new political system and process.