It is clear that in the 20th and 21st centuries, terror has taken many forms. The most frequently publicised forms of terrorism in the western media are those in which guns and bombs are used by against civilian and military targets. However, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, armed attacks upon defenceless victims by organised male-dominated gangs, groups or sects are but one kind of mechanised form of terror inflicted upon numerous communities throughout the world. But we should not overlook the fact there is undoubtedly another form of organised terror which is far more sophisticated and widespread and is equally as ruthless as the former.
This second form is state organised terror. Using special state-funded armed bodies of men (overt and covert) and wielding the most sophisticated armaments available, the men in charge of state forces – of practically every modern state in existence – routinely conduct acts of terror. They do so on all those (internally or externally) who they define as being against the states (ie their own elite ) interests. This constitutes a huge global industry of terror. Then there is a third form of terror which is not necessarily an organised form, but of course it can be. This latter is the personal terror socially or domestically inflicted – mainly upon women – by individual men or groups of men.
It is clear that if we critically consider all three sources and forms of terror we find they all emanate from men in positions of power or seeking to achieve power over others. In other words, all three sources of terror are simply the ultimate demonstration of embedded patriarchal cultural forms and the associated assumptions emanating from these. Viewed holistically it is clear that male ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’ is not just a peripheral or exceptional manifestation on the fringes of modern society, as many like to claim.
On the contrary, patriarchal oppression and terror still permeate the entire fabric of the modern world. Inflicting acts of terror are merely the extreme manifestations of the patriarchal mode of social control inherited from earlier modes of production. Yet strangely, patriarchy – as a whole – and its attendant assumptions and actions (the actual source of terror) remains largely unchallenged by men and sadly – as yet – by the majority of women. The last challenge against patriarchy, the feminist movement of the 20th century, was marginalised and rejected by the left and mainly restricted itself to equal opportunities reforms.
1. State organisational forms of patriarchal oppression and terror.
It is a recorded fact that all states past and present, have been dominated by men, even when the occasional female figurehead has been selected by the ‘king-making’ or ‘president choosing’ male oligarchs. The occasional Queen or female Prime Minister, has not so much as ruffled a miniscule feather on the elite patriarchal birds of prey which circle a wide range of communities in search of their next victims. In order to maintain this ‘unnatural’ state of affairs, these elite men have been forced to recruit and employ specialist armed bodies of men in order to protect their lives and their systems.
An integral part of the job description of these armed bodies of men is to threaten to inflict physical harm upon those individuals and communities who say they will not conform and to actually inflict it when they do not. In extreme cases the harm they inflict is intentionally disproportional to any infringement committed, so as to be a vivid and horrifying ‘lesson’ to obey in future. History is littered with garrotting, crucifying, impaling, burning, drowning, chopping off heads and limbs. Modernity has its own new forms of terror.
Public and private forms of extreme torture have all been used by elite males to inflict terror upon their communities – and against non-conforming women in particular. Hence these forms along with large-scale wars and massacres dating from the Persian and Greek periods of antiquity, have continued throughout the ages. Continuing through the Empires of Rome and Islam, the Crusades of the Middle Ages, and on to the colonialist and Imperialist wars, and invasions of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, patriarchy has wielded the sword and the stick.
All such acts of war and terror were motivated and conducted by oligarchies of elite men and all had as their purpose, domination in order to acquire wealth and privilege. The modern invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan motivated and organised by modern elite males and conducted largely by armed men are just continuations of that centuries old cultural invention of patriarchy – physical domination by a hierarchy composed of men.
Whether invading countries with ‘boots’, assassination teams, aircraft or now by ‘drones’, the instructions and implementations of these activities are conducted by men and the intended or collateral victims always include innocent males, females and children. This is terror on an industrial scale. Yet the inflicting of terror by a state is not confined to foreign people and their lands, but extends to the internal civilian population of their own countries, especially if these should publicise (or directly challenge) the ruling elites nefarious activities.
Hence the 21st century pepper-spraying and incarceration of ‘Occupy’ activists and many other opposition activists; the inhuman treatment of Bradley Manning and the inmates of Guantanamo, or the hounding of whistle-blowers such as Julian Assange and Edward Snowden. [As I write this the military elite in Egypt have ordered the brutal dispersal of peaceful protestors against what they see as the recent military coup.] At the same time deaths in police custody are no rarity in every country of the world and torture continues to be an instrument of male elite sanctioned terror – wherever there is a state.
And it makes no difference which kind of state the male hierarchy controls. It can be capitalist (too many to mention) or non-capitalist states such as the former Soviet Union, China, Cambodia, East Germany, North Korea etc. The ’state’ can be led by left-leaning, liberal or right-leaning men, it makes little difference to the existence of terror. This recurring and wide-spread patriarchal reality serves to demonstrate the full spectrum range of male conducted state terror and oppression. Not surprisingly, it is also manifested in the new theocratic states such as Iran and neo theocracies such as Saudi Arabia.
It is a common mistake for those on the left to assume that it is the capitalist mode of production which generates such deforming characteristics as patriarchal state oppression and terror, but it is clearly not only capitalist states which do so. It is an undeniable fact that the capitalist mode of production has come to dominate the entire globe and therefore there are more secular capitalist states than theocratic and even fewer with self-proclaimed pretensions to being anti-capitalist. But even in the latter, patriarchy (ie hierarchies with men sat at the summit and dominating the higher slopes of economic and political life) are the universal patterns adopted. But neither is patriarchy simply a product of state formation, it merely manifests itself there more vigorously, organisationally and powerfully. In fact if we look carefully enough, patriarchy penetrates everything.
2. Non-state organisational forms of patriarchal oppression and terror.
When we consider non-state forms of organised patriarchal oppression and terror we find that there two main types of group. The first are religious groups such as the many religious fundamentalist sects predominantly within the Abrahamic religious fold. Islamic terrorist groups are the most focussed upon in the western media, but there are also Jewish Zionist terrorist groups and Christian Zionist cells. These are all not only male dominated and oppressive to women but also to those of the competing religions (and none) and those of their ‘own’ who they consider traitors. Zionist terrorism, both state and none-state is conducted most visibly in Israel and the occupied territories of Palestine, but it exists within North America and elsewhere in various forms.
Interestingly and alarmingly, the state organised forms of terror can and does initiate and perpetuate the non-state forms. The continued use of state organised terror can stimulate anger and resentment in targeted communities which breed cells of resistance and retaliation. It is these extremely disaffected and radicalised individuals who organise and then also begin their own reign of terror aimed not only at the direct oppressors but on those innocent of such activities. They even begin to terrorise their own communities when they consider these are not conforming to the wishes of those so recently radicalised.
The range of terror and oppression exhibited by these organised groups of men stretches along a continuum, from grooming for child sexual labour, through shooting (ie Malala Yousafzai), deforming (including the recent teenage acid attacks in Zanzibar), bombing and assassination of families and family members (at offices, schools, markets, funerals, weddings, churches and mosques – in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere). These attacks are not only against the invaders, but also against those indigenous people not conforming to their wishes.
It should be remembered that not all such groups of men are religiously based or inspired, for there are secular versions of group organised terror. Almost exclusively such groups of men have justified their activities by reference to some form of ideology. Religious sects and other such groups obviously base and justify their action upon some allegedly sacred texts associated to their particular denomination, but secular groups also like to justify their existence by means of a chosen ideology.
Frequently, non-religious groups of males inflicting oppression and terror have claimed to be acting in accordance with the following higher causes; Nationalism, Fascism, Marxism, Leninism, Trotskyism, Stalinism. Maoism or some other set of ideas. These secular ideas, as with religious, have an instrumental purpose, for they are used to justify whatever the organisations wish to do and whatever, terror they intend to perpetrate.
Male dominated groups from these type of non-religious groupings have all, at one time or another, killed, tortured and maimed. These being the extreme end of the spectrum of male-dominated oppression. At the less extreme end of the patriarchal spectrum, such groups have also routinely used, abused, groomed and sexually and domestically exploited women and men from the lower ranks of their particular group hierarchy.
Even on the anti-capitalist left, patriarchal oppression and exploitation is a practice of recent as well as past public knowledge. It should be obvious from these generic examples – the specifics of which can be supplemented by the readers own knowledge or research – that patriarchy is a constant within all these state, sectarian group or other organised forms of oppression and terror. And of course, patriarchy permeates even more levels of society – even down to the most atomised and intimate levels of individuality and family.
3. Social and domestic forms of patriarchal oppression and terror.
At the un-organised levels of society such as social and family relationships patriarchy with its oppressive and terror inducing characteristics are also endemic and universal. The relationships between men and women are overwhelmingly warped and distorted by the inherited cultural manifestations of patriarchy. Rape, sexual harassment, threats, beatings, abductions, torture and killing are the extreme ends of the un-organised societal spectrum of patriarchy, but the visible spectrum of this cultural pattern, extends far beyond that extreme to the more subtle forms of exploitation and oppression. Women are marginalised and viewed as domestic slaves, providers cheap labour and sexual gratification, by the majority of men.
Despite the fact that in a few places the formation of equal rights for women has provided a restricted legal basis for equality, women are not really treated as equal anywhere – period!. Such laws, where they exist, are resented, largely ignored or subverted everywhere in the advanced capitalist countries. And, importantly, outside of these so-called ’advanced’ countries women remain in a condition little better than outright chattel slavery.
In such cases, they are not allowed to determine what happens to their own bodies, with regard to pregnancies, the retention of sexual organs or which male shall take over ownership of their entire being. This patriarchal practice reaches down right into childhood where in some places even a female child’s very existence can be threatened with termination and ownership of those allowed to live can be bought and sold – just like any other disposable commodity.
But the patriarchal right of men to assert their attitudes and power over others extends beyond the family kitchen, living room and bedroom. It extends to other women and children in society in the form of grooming, abduction into prostitution, harassment, innuendo, verbal abuse, intimidation and indecent assault – and also to other men. Fascistic levels of physical harassment and assault by men against non-conforming men, particularly gay men, are manifested in all countries.
So too are discrimination, intimidation, racial innuendo, verbal abuse and threats against non-indigenous (non-white in Europe and the west) males by patriarchal supremacists. Just how widespread the underlying cultural aspects of males attempting to assert their power over others (another aspect of patriarchy) is revealed by the frequent clashes between rival football fans in which severe injury is the minimum level required to obtain satisfaction.
4. Revolutionary-humanism and the struggle against Patriarchy.
Of course even where patriarchy cloaks its terrorist face and assumes a more benign expression for extended levels of time this does not mean that this mask will not be cast aside when and where male dominance is threatened. And even in its less aggressive expressions the problem of patriarchy still exists. Male attitudes of dominance still oppress and threaten the well-being of all those not of the male gender or not of a dominant or dominating disposition. Male power and the attendant attitudes and threats – open or hidden – are a seamless continuum in politics, religion, finance, industry, commerce, education, media, entertainment, sport and family life.
Fascism was the 20th centuries un-nuanced reassertion of extreme Patriarchy under the extended Fuehrer principle. It was a systematic reassertion of extreme male domination in which women by state ‘dictat’ would be firmly under the control of men – at all levels of the social and family hierarchy. In Nazi Germany, this patriarchal control was exerted even to the extent of ’selected’ women being the state organised breeders of the next generation of the so-called Aryan ’master race’. Fascism eventually became the state organised face of a 20th century militant tribal patriarchy bent on world supremacy and the totalitarian domination of society by powerful elite males.
The other 20th century secular face of militant patriarchy – with similar world domination pretensions – came in the form of Stalinism. Stalinism replicated practically all the horrors of Fascism, from state-organised terror of its citizens to the assassination of rivals among the elite. An all-male, sectarian elite coercively and unquestionably dominated all aspects of soviet life from the period of Lenin and Trotsky through to that of Stalin and his successors. All soviet citizens, during the early period, were persuaded or induced to have a reverential regard for, if not to an attitude of worship for the ‘leader’. Fascist and Stalinist, concentration camps, work-camps and ‘death camps’ were the patriarchal mirror image of each other – even whilst both patriarchies were locked in mortal combat during the Second World War – itself the most organised form of patriarchal barbarism of the 20th century.
With the almost total death of these two extreme forms of secular patriarchy – Bolshevism and Fascism – the baton, or rather the cudgel – has been taken over by neo-liberalism on the one-hand, and a renewed religious form of extreme patriarchy – Islamism, on the other. The supporters of neo-liberal capitalism and Islamism represent the 21st century faces of extreme patriarchy all of whom are more than happy to dominate and oppress women in the home, the workplace and throughout social life. The respective hierarchical forms they champion also seek to dominate and control all those below them and to oppress all non-conforming men, whether religious or secular. Modern Islamism, like its ancient forerunners and like the neo-liberal capitalist mode of production, openly seeks to dominate the world.
For this reason the struggle against Capitalism runs parallel with the struggle against Islamism, because both are deeply entrenched forms of patriarchy. The struggle against the domination of the capitalist mode of production is in itself – simultaneously – a struggle against patriarchy. There can be no equality or justice for anyone unless there is simultaneously real equality and justice for women and all self-organising communities.
The struggle against patriarchy – as with the struggle against all hierarchy – is not something which must wait until the capitalist mode of production is superseded, and then be granted by some future (imaginary) beneficent male elites. It is part of the everyday struggle against that entire mode. If it hasn’t started already, then the struggle against patriarchy should start now in our everyday practice and ideas. It is part and parcel of the revolutionary struggle.
So it should be clear that state terror, sectarian terror and domestic terror are not completely different species, even though they may manifest themselves somewhat variably. They are all manifestations of patriarchy – the actions of men ruling over communities and asserting or defending that rule – in the ways they choose. The creation of a humane humanity, the only general and sustainable inspiration for a revolutionary transformation of the present mode of production, means overcoming patriarchy in all its forms; religious, secular and yes in revolutionary organisation too.
Patriarchy is organically woven into the structure of the capitalist mode of production. To be fully revolutionary and anti-capitalist, therefore, means being thoroughly against patriarchy in theory and practice – at the same time! To be really revolutionary in action and not just in words, during the 20th and 21st centuries means rejecting this accumulated and still accumulating ‘muck of ages’ wherever it continues to flourish and wherever it still lurks.
Roy Ratcliffe (August 2013.)