March 31, 2010

Witches, Midwives & Nurses

This is the first part of a two part series, the other being Complaints and Disorders.

Witches, Midwives and Nurses
explains how the American medical profession came to be dominated by rich, white men, while Complaints and Disorders addresses the effects of this domination.

Barbara Ehrenreich &
Deirdre English:
The suppression of female healers by the medical establishment was a political struggle, first, in that it is part of the history of sex struggle in general. The status of women healers has risen and fallen with the status of women. When women healers were attacked, they were attacked as Women; when they fought back, they fought back in solidarity will all women.

It is a political struggle, second, in that it was part of a class struggle. Women healers were people’s doctors, and their medicine was part of a people’s subculture. To this very day women’s medical practice has thrived in the midst of rebellious lower class movements which have struggled to be free from the established authorities. Male professionals, on the other hand, served the ruling class – both medically and politically. Their interests have been advanced by the universities, the philanthropic foundations and the law. They owe their victory – not so much to their own efforts – but to the intervention of the ruling class the served.

This pamphlet represents a beginning of the research which will have to be done to recapture our history as health workers. It is a fragmentary account, assembled from sources which were usually sketchy and often biased, by women who are in no sense “professional” historians. We confined ourselves to western history, since the institutions we confront today are the products of western civilization. We are far from being able to represent a complete chronological history. Instead, we looked at two separate, important phases in the male takeover of health care: the suppression of witches in medieval Europe, and the rise of the male medical profession in 19th century America.

To know our history is to begin to see how to take up the struggle again!

March 23, 2010

The Makhnovist Granny

Leah Feldman, who was cremated in London on January 7th, 1994 was one of the ordinary men and women who rarely get into history books but have been the backbone of the anarchist movement.

Born in Warsaw in 1899, as a schoolgirl she became interested in anarchism. She said that her mother used to hide her shoes so that she could not attend meetings, which were then illegal in Poland. Finally she ran away to her sister in London where she earned her living at the sewing machine.

Working in the sweatshops of the East End she became active in the Yiddish-speaking anarchist movement that flourished at that time. When the Russian revolution broke out in 1917 the overwhelming majority of Russian male Jewish anarchists returned home. Many of those women whose husbands and lovers died at the hands of the Tsarists or the Bolsheviks, remained in England. The Jewish (in the sense of neither racial or religious but Yiddish-speaking) anarchist movement gradually dwindled and ended with Leah's death in January.

Leah, however, had made her own way to Russia. Upon arrival she saw the reality of Bolshevik rule and was not impressed. As a working woman she could see the effects of their dictatorship in a way that visiting intellectuals could not. Before leaving Moscow she attended Kropotkin's funeral, the last permitted anarchist demonstration until the collapse of Stalinism. (In a great display of self-discipline all of the anarchist political prisoners who were paroled for the funeral returned to jail, in the hope that the Bolsheviks would give parole to others in the future).

Leah traveled south to the Ukraine and joined the anarchist Revolutionary Insurrectionary Army led by Nestor Makhno. The Ukranian anarchists fought Tsarism, foreign intervention and then the Bolshevik dictatorship. Though she did not actually fight (some women who could ride horseback did) she joined the train that followed the army and prepared clothes and food for the orphans and strays they picked up everywhere.

When they were defeated in 1921 she got out of the country by changing her nationality through a marriage of convenience to a German anarchist. They did not meet again. She made her way to Paris and then back to London. There she acquired British citizenship by another marriage of convenience, this time to a derelict ex-serviceman who was paid £10 for his services. They did not see each other until many years later Leah received an official communication that he was in a geriatric hospital. She used to visit him with presents of tobacco.

Before World War II she travelled to Poland and Palestine, working her way to both places. In Palestine she organized a federation of anarchists. One surprise was meeting her old friend Paula Green, who had been pressured into marriage in Russia, so had chosen an atheist zionist with whom she was in love. Paula knew he was active in Labor politics but thought it impossible that he would ever be in government as he thought her ideas impossible.

Green changed his name to Ben Gurion and became the first prime minister of Israel. His wife did not leave him but she never once took part in any public functions with him. She remained a still believing, if passive, anarchist.

When Leah returned to London at the end of 1935 she helped raise money for the German sailors who organized an anti-Nazi resistance group in the 1930s. She also did tremendous work for the Spanish anarchist movement when the civil war broke out.

Leah was a member of a working group of immigrant anarchist women in Holborn ever since 1939. How, with the confusion of tongues - broken English, Yiddish, Polish, French, Catalan, Spanish, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot - they understood each other was a mystery to many. But they managed.

Leah had to give up work when her eyesight went after an operation. She was completely blind in one eye thereafter and increasingly so in the other. She used her free time to help the movement she had given her life to. In the 1960s she smuggled arms into Spain for the fighters who had continued resisting the Franco regime since 1939. The Catalans, who are prone to giving nicknames, christened her "la yaya Makhnowista" (the Makhnovist granny).

Her last years were sad. Not only were all her family and her early friends dead, there was nobody left with whom she could talk in her own language. But she never gave up. She still supported anarchist meetings and always attended the annual London Anarchist Bookfair when her health permitted.

Our movement has been built by working women and men like Leah. It is right that we do not forget their contribution.

March 3, 2010

Complaints and Disorders

This is the second part of a two part series. The first pamphlet, Witches, Midwives, and Nurses, will be posted soon.

Barbara Ehrenreich &
Deirdre English:
Our motivation to write this pamphlet comes out of our own experiences as women, as health care consumers, and as activists in the women’s health movement. In writing this, we have tried to see beyond our own experiences (and anger) and to understand medical sexism as a social force helping to shape the options and social roles of all women. Our approach is largely historical. In the first sections of this pamphlet we attempt to describe medicine’s contribution to the sexist ideology and sexual oppression in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (approximately 1865 to 1920 though a few important medical books were written earlier). We chose to begin with this period because it witnessed a pronounced shift from a religious to a bio-medical rationale for sexism, as well as the formation of the medical profession as we know it – a male elite with a legal monopoly over medicine practice. We feel that this period provides a perspective essential for understanding our relation to the modern medical system. In the last two sections we attempt to apply that perspective to our present situation and the issues that concern us today.

Among the Women of the ETA

This text was originally the first chapter of a book called Shoot the Women First written in the late 1980s by Eileen MacDonald. In her book MacDonald explores the role of women who are involved “violent” or “terrorist” organizations: the ETA (the Basque separatists movement), the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army, Leila Khaled of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Baader-Meinhohf Gang and the Red Army Faction, Kim Hyon Hui (who blow up a plane for the North Korean government), and Susanna Ronconi of the Red Brigades. The title of this book comes from orders rumored to have been given to police forces who specialized in terrorist incidents. Upon hearing this from a special agent in the German terrorist unit, MacDonald set out to investigate the reason behind this piece of advice.

While the book provides great insight into these organizations and individuals, MacDonald is by no means sympathetic to the causes of those she is interviewing and writing about. Her interest in these groups extends only to the role of these women and their relationship to violence: whether or not women are more brutal, more committed, and more dangerous than their male counterparts. She explores the idea that women have a greater capacity for violence because of their biology: they give life, and are therefore more able to take it; and that patriarchal relations makes women tougher because they feel that they have more to prove, that they can be equally, if not more, violent and brutal than men.

In printing “Among the Women of the ETA” out intention was to take a look at one instance of women in militant struggle. We are not really concerned with the struggle of the ETA, nor any other nationalist movement.
What was appreciated about this particular interview was that the women didn't seem to dwell on the fact that being women made them different than their male counterparts but seemed to embrace the idea that they were equal, both as individuals and as comrades, but were willing to discuss that differences that did exist and analyze how that affected their struggle. Many of the texts out there about women in militant roles written by anarchists are about the same few people or groups or have the same perceptive and bias – which is what makes this zine interesting, it's different. And while the ETA is not anarchistic, many of the tactics that they discussed in the interview are things that some anarchist embrace -- clandestine action, bombings, attacks on police and judges, etc. And as such we found these women's thoughts relevant.

Resistance to Difference

Helene Bowen Raddeker:

In imperial Japan sexual equality had many champions, though definitions of what constituted equality varied markedly. The following discussion concerns three women who were among the most radical of its advocates: Kanno Suga (1881-1911), Itō Noe (1895-1923) and Kaneko Fumiko (1903-1926). All three, it will be noted, died young. Not one of them, moreover, died from natural causes but, rather, at or in the hands of the State. This may come as no surprise since all were anarchists or (in the case of Fumiko) strongly influenced by anarchism; as we shall see below, two of the three were even self-confessed traitors who believed in political violence as a necessary strategy. These three women did not fall foul of state power due specifically to their advocacy of sexual equality, yet this was an intrinsic part of the political standpoints and identities they embraced. If it had not been for their resistance to hierarchical notions of male-female difference and their demands for equal recognition and treatment by society, their fates may have been different. The self-denial and self-effacement traditionally expected of women was, for each of them, not an option, for it ruled out the possibility of a true subjecthood and destiny of her own choosing.

This is Not a Love Story

The Revolutionary Cells (RZ) made their first appearance on November 16th, 1973 with an attack against ITT in West Berlin to point out the participation of this multinational corporation in Pinochet’s military putsch in Chile.In 1976, numerous wimmin broke with the RZ and formed their own splinter group and from 1977 onwards, the militant feminist ant patriarchal urban guerrilla group Rote Zora (Red Zora) acted autonomously and independently, though some wimmin still participated in the Revolutionary Cells, which had by then shifted its focus to acts of clandestine sabotage in support of the larger anti-nuclear movement in Germany.

In this pamphlet there is an interview with members of the Red Zora and a brief look into Direct Action and the Wimmin's Fire Brigade.

“....We are women between the ages of 20 and 51. Some of us sell our labour, some of us take what we need, and others are “parasites” on the welfare state. Some have children, some don’t. Some women are lesbians, others love men. We buy in disgusting supermarkets, we live in ugly houses, we like going for walks or to the cinema, the theatre or the disco. We have parties and we cultivate idleness. And of course we live with the contradictions that many things we want to do can’t be done spontaneously. But after successful actions we have great fun.”
-Member of the Red Zora