This is the web edition of the book Sisters, comrades! by Kjersti Ericsson. It was first published in Norwegian (Søstre, kamerater!) by Oktober Publishing House in 1987. A reprint was published by the magazine Røde Fane in 1999 (ISBN 82-91778-19-1), and made available on the world wide web in 2000.
An English edition was published by AKP (Workers' Communist Party of Norway) in 1993, translated by Nancy Sipe and Anne-Louise Midtsem. This web edition is based on an OCR scan of this. Some minor printing and translation errors have been corrected.
The paper edition may be ordered from AKP, Osterhausgata 27, N-0183 Oslo, e-mail email@example.com.
A spanish edition is also in print.
Coverphoto: Kjersti Botnedal
This book was, actually, written by several people besides myself. It is a product of the discussions held in the women's political movement in and around AKP (m-l) (Worker's Communist Party (m-l) of Norway) over the past years. And this milieu has received impulses from a far larger group of activists for the women's cause and researchers on women's questions, who through practice and theory have given women a new consciousness and new knowledge. What I have written is, of course, my own responsibility. But the work behind the book has not only been my own. It would be hopeless to start mentioning names. Some names will be found in the reference list. But many, who are not mentioned there, have participated in this process. Developing women's policy is a collective undertaking in which ownership of ideas and thoughts has not been practised.
There is one name which I would like to mention: the Norwegian magazine The Materialist. Through the years this magazine has had a number of important articles in the area of women's research. Many of them have been written by women who are both researchers and activists, and their angle on the problems has been dictated as much by the practical struggle as by "pure" scientific curiosity. The Materialist is an interdisciplinary magazine with a critical and radical program. This is what has made it possible for it to develop a new and controversial area, although resources are small and the magazine survives on "air and love".
I wish to thank the comrades at AKP(m-l)'s office who have let me have a sabbatical from the daily chores as leader of AKP(ml) in order to write this book. And many thanks to those who have taken the time to read through the manuscript and have given me helpful comments: Jorun Gulbrandsen, Cecilie Høigård, Sin Jensen, Geir Lundby, Jørn Magdahl, Eiliv Ryste, Pål Steigan. The fact that there are more men than women on this list must be taken as a sign that, even in AKP(m-l), time for concentration is an even rarer advantage for women than for men.
Oslo, March 1, 1987
Do not offer us a trifle
"The female person" as a wage earner: The value of the female labor power | Dad gets the biggest piece | Supplementary labor power for supplementary wages | Girls waiting to marry | The power balance between the sexes as a disciplinary method | Exploiting the "feminine"
Capitalism and housework: The husband - an exploiter? | The housewife and the farmer in the Third World | Housework - full of contradictions for Capital? | The ideological veil | Capitalism against women
The bourgeoisie rule when men rule a little: Dividing and weakening | Våler Skurlag and Hillesland | The LO leadership - male chauvinism as policy | A different sort | A troll's splinter in the eye | Useful idiots
Where the threads merge into a knot: The family - an economic unit | The family - a link in the social hierarchy | Where else can we warm ourselves? | Family myths and double talk
Imperialism and women: A deadly combination | Women and the subsistence sector | The subsistence sector and cheap labor | The "informal" sector | The new proletariat | Anti-imperialism on women's terms
Women's struggle and class struggle: Full equality during capitalism? | The women's struggle - a threat to the class struggle? | One policy for the women of the bourgeoisie and one for the women of the working class? | What divides us?
The stereotyped woman: Lesbian women - particular oppression - particular strengths | The immigrant woman - a "problem" | An in depth understanding of oppression
From here to there - part I: The dual consciousness | Women's organization - a key link | Women's consciousness and the fight against pornography | How does one organize "Aker Brygge"? | The alliance between the two vanguards | Getting tough | What do we do with the comrades?
From here to there - part II: What is socialism? | Why did it turn out as it did? | Steel, iron and tractors | "With a women's front to back you up" | Full of contradictions | An economic model which serves women | What happens to the warm shelter of the family? | Organizing for battle
The battle to change people's hearts: Love and power | Men's world and women's place | "To read men's heart" | The resistance of the powerless | Contempt for the weak | A human identity
insinuates itself on the victims
the one who is beaten
has committed a crime
the blood that drips from the wounds
the abused body guilty.
insinuates itself on the victims
centuries upon decades
millennium upon centuries
will this never end?
Sisters, comrades, women
our anger rises now
it rises and rises
like the tide
up from the innermost darkness in us
carrying with it the glowing ash
from all of the fires
carrying with it the blows, the screams
the boot-tramplings of the heart
and those countless used-up, unlived lives
for which there can be no consolation.
The anger rises and rises
it is our mighty gift to the world
together with the love
that found it too cramped
to be confined to a man's breast
we give it to each other now
and to this earth
with the people who live on it
black, white, yellow, brown
to the young reindeer
unprotected against fallout-bearing rain
to the sea that breathes so heavily
and to the nameless, unseen flowers
deep in the Amazonian jungle.
Do not offer us a trifle
Do not ask us to be grateful!
We come here
with the blaze from all of the fires in us
the pain from all of the blows
and the boot-tramplings of the heart
with the hunger of unlived lives
and that terrible heat
from our unrequited love.
Do not stand in our way
when we come to change the world
with vehement strokes
when we come to cultivate it
in our own way.
Do not stand in our way
for we are the owners of tomorrow.
(translated by Francesca M. Nichols)
They are on strike in the tin mines in Bolivia. The opposing fronts are determined, neither the company leaders nor the workers will give in. For the company's leaders the situation is becoming precarious. They're sitting on stockloads of minerals for which their customers are waiting. If they can get 20 full mineral trucks out, then a good deal has been won. The housewife committee, wives of the miners who have organized in order to fight in their way, decides to hit back, "We've got to stop these trucks!". Their leader, Domitila, tells how they did it,
"The next day at nine in the morning, we went with a group of women to where the lorries were. Some had started to leave and some of the drivers pretended to take no notice of us. They just wanted to go. But we've always been a bit wild - so they say - so we'd taken some sticks of dynamite with us. We got into one of the lorries and said to the driver, "If you drive off, we'll light this stick of dynamite, and everything will go up." "No, no, I'm getting out," he said, and he got out quickly. We managed to stop them leaving, and organized ourselves in shifts. Three companeras would look after the lorries from seven in the morning till three in the afternoon, while other women cooked for them and looked after their children. Then at three, they would go to the lorries until eleven at night, and the other companeras would cook and looked after the children. Another shift began at eleven at night till seven o'clock in the morning, while others looked after their families."
This story says a good deal. It shows that women actively participate in the oppressed classes' battle. When women organize, they are literally dynamite. But right in the middle of the most stringent battle these women must still carry their special female role with them: not only do they have to organize the picket line, but also babysitting and cooking (for each other).
Women all over the world are fighting. They're fighting a dual battle: as a part of the oppressed classes, and as the oppressed sex. The women's movement is no "white" western phenomenon. The first "modern" March 8th (International Women's Day) demonstration in Oslo was held exactly the same year as the first "modern" March 8th demonstration in Manila on the Philippines (1971). Conditions for women in the tiny, wealthy capitalistic country of Norway, were very different than for women in the half-feudal Philippines, impoverished and squeezed by American imperialism, and a greedy and despotic upperclass in their own country. But, still, something united us, something made us go out into the streets with banners and slogans - simultaneously. This "something" - a dawning women's consciousness - has grown in strength since then. When women textile workers in South Korea strike for better working conditions, and fight to gain the power in their own union, then they, too, meet their opponent's contempt for women, and they meet their own doubts, "We're just women, can we do this?" The women's struggle becomes a necessary part of the worker's struggle. When the English mine workers' wives organize to defend jobs and their local community, they discover that something happens to them, also as women: they emerge from the struggle prouder, stronger, more self-assured, and there are many things they will no longer put up with. Low-paid women in Norway, striking for a livable wage, feel their anger growing because women, as a sex, are less valued than men. And they ask why, with what right? In Nicaragua, where women crop-workers weren't allowed their own pay before the revolution (their men got it), they are now demanding their own machetes, and day-care, and canteens. And the women in Eritrea, who are fighting an armed battle for national and social liberation, are also fighting for the right to live as free women, in a free country.
The women's struggle is an enormous, worldwide movement. It expresses itself in a thousand different ways, and yet, there is common ground. The movement challenges established power relations, social structures, thoughts, and emotions. It creates unrest, and bodes of great changes. The women's movement is breaking up from the old world.
Never has the world as sorely needed change as now. "It may be a matter of saving our earth," Rudolf Nilsen wrote many years ago. Now we can drop the "may". The earth must be saved from a system that creates wars, famines, poisons the forests, the water, the air, a system that converts the majority of people into superfluous expense items.
"The best among you have been called," Rudolf Nilsen wrote. Today this means that ordinary women all over the world have been called. Without them there is no hope. The majority of the women have a dual reason to fight to create a new world: they are oppressed and exploited as working people, and they are oppressed as a sex. As with Domitila and her comrades, they have to fight together with men against the leaders of the mining company and their supporters in the government. But they also have to fight against the dual workload that is imposed on women, and against the oppression of, and the contempt for women with which society is permeated. Women are at the bottom. The whole world has to be turned upside down! That cannot happen unless those at the bottom rise up.
This book argues that the economic system that dominates the world today, capitalism and imperialism, is a disaster for women. It saps work and vitality from them, and binds them in a powerless position, crippling them as human beings. The book goes on to argue that the women's struggle is a tremendous power in the fight to overthrow the existing system, and create something new and better. It's crucial that all those who want to "save our earth", both women and men, understand this. It's important to know that we have to fight, and it's important to know how. We have to have a strategy. This book also tries to say something about this.
I, myself, belong in the classic marxist and communist tradition. In its relationship to the women's struggle and women's liberation one finds both good and bad. This book is also meant to be a contribution towards developinging and changing the communist tradition's views on the women's struggle.
The struggle for the liberation of women is so all-encompassing that it leaves you breathless. There is scarcely a question that is gender neutral. The oppression of women is interwoven into the economic base of capitalism, into the system by which the bourgeoisie rules, and into the most intimate relations between people. Therefore, the women's struggle can not be a strictly limited question. We have to include women in every single analysis of society, and in every attempt to change it.
This book isn't the result of painstaking theoretical studies, and it does not pretend to present a comprehensive theory about the oppression of women under capitalism. The questions it does deal with, and tries to answer, are primarily questions that have come up in the practical battles in which I, and many others, have been involved. The practical battle breeds contradictions and problems that it is important to clarify, in order to move forward. Therefore, this book is meant as a contribution to a debate, and to the ongoing process of day-to-day struggle and the summing up of experiences.
Nevertheless, I hope that I have given my arguments a certain degree of science. But this book is just as much the result of defiance: of my own life as an oppressed woman, and of the rage and the longing for change which these experiences have created.
I have organized the book in the following way.
Women need a determined fury. And the earth needs women's determined fury. I hope that this book can contribute towards creating both a little more fury, and a little more determination.