Reading proletarian theory during the Alabama bill

Alabama and Georgia: the beginnings of another legal counterattack against the Roe v Wade precedent.

The question of women’s reproductive health rights is never far from proletarian literature—it was this particular strain of this history that started to win me over to socialism. The MANIFESTO highlights prostitution at least a couple of times. And just by coincidence the abortion issue came up time and again in my studies this year.

A great text is Lenin’s article from 1913: “The Working Class and Neo-Malthusianism.”

It’s a common sentiment to regret bringing children into the world, or to even refuse to have children on the philosophical basis that the world is just shit. Schopenhauer runs with this thought into a fully-formed anti-natalism. But this is in fact an expression of petty bourgeois despair. That despair reflects the petty bourgeoisie’s economically precarious existence but also (for the revolutionary-minded of its ranks) its structural inability to wage an independent struggle, as is made clear in STATE AND REVOLUTION. That is, the petty bourgeoisie is not, and can never be the revolutionary class against capitalism.

Yes, we workers and the mass of small proprietors lead a life that is filled with unbearable oppression and suffering. Things are harder for our generation than they were for our fathers. But in one respect we are luckier than our fathers. We have begun to learn and are rapidly learning to fight—and to fight not as individuals, as the best of our fathers fought, not for the slogans of bourgeois speechifiers that are alien to us in spirit, but for our slogans, the slogans of our class. We are fighting better than our fathers did. Our children will fight better than we do, and they will be victorious.

Okay, but what does Lenin think about abortion, since he opened this article with statistical data on it from New York and St. Petersburg.

It goes without saying that this does not by any means prevent us from demanding the unconditional annulment of all laws against abortions or against the distribution of medical literature on contraceptive measures, etc. Such laws are nothing but the hypocrisy of the ruling classes. These laws do not heal the ulcers of capitalism, they merely turn them into malignant ulcers that are especially painful for the oppressed masses. Freedom for medical propaganda and the protection of the elementary democratic rights of citizens, men and women, are one thing. The social theory of neomalthusianism is quite another. Class-conscious workers will always conduct the most ruthless struggle against attempts to impose that reactionary and cowardly theory on the most progressive and strongest class in modern society, the class that is the best prepared for great changes.

There you have it. So many liberals in the discourse keep trying to appeal to the Evangelical right, meet ’em at their own logical terrain, address their deep, genuine, cemented, firmly held faith. Yeah, right! Access to safe abortion is an elemental democratic right for all people who biologically can bear children. It is not a faith issue but a political one; it is one form of expression of the class antagonism undegirding capitalism. After all, why are they sponsoring and campaigning for this backward legislation, and all the energy and money that entails? Why don’t they just pray?

Next, to switch gears from politics to philosophy, is Engels in his 1880 SOCIALISM: UTOPIAN AND SCIENTIFIC.

In the second part on dialectics, he actually uses the “when is abortion murder” question—in fact he demolishes it through correct dialectical reasoning.

For everyday purposes, we know and can say, e.g., whether an animal is alive or not. But, upon closer inquiry, we find that his is, in many cases, a very complex question, as the jurists know very well. They have cudgelled their brains in vain to discover a rational limit beyond which the killing of the child in its mother’s womb is murder. It is just as impossible to determine absolutely the moment of death, for physiology proves that death is not an instantaneous, momentary phenomenon, but a very protracted process.

At what point is abortion murder? The question is a metaphysical non-starter, presupposing life and death as immutable categories, and that death is a switch of one to the other. In fact, death is a process. All of reality is a process, and an assumption that death can be determined at an exact point is a failure to appreciate the fundamental dynamism of the world.

Why reflect on 19th and 20th century communist texts when it comes to abortion struggles in the 21st century US? Because even though capitalism did not invent patriarchy, the former, as an economic system in which commodity production completely dominates, is the ultimate basis for the oppression and exploitation of women. The fundamental contradiction of the capitalist formation is the social character of labor and the private character of its appropriation (through private property and free market competition). The relations of prior human epochs and small-scale commodity exchange are taken up and reinforced by capitalism: the nuclear family and its entrapment of women as domestic servants, homo- and transphobia as weapons against sexual non-conformity.

With the abortion question, the backward social relations of capitalism are blinding. Criminalizing abortion is an attack on democratic rights, an exacerbation of public health when private services are prohibitively expensive, an expansion of racist police terrorism, and a bid to further disenfranchisement via incarceration. Such measures are yet another symptom of the bourgeoisie’s rabid authoritarianism due to the ongoing crisis in capitalism.

Religion? Morality and ethics? Bourgeois smoke screens. The instruments for understanding the issue are the same for addressing it: science and class struggle. We need science to understand the world, and to gain science we must practically act upon it.

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