The recent advances by the armed forces of the Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) further into Iraq and the subsequent skirmishes, has at last demonstrated what has long been clear. It is that militant patriarchy in the form of various religious movements has achieved a high profile resurgence in many parts of the world. Islamic, militant patriarchy is not the only religion currently manifesting this form of sectarian violence in order to re-assert its dominance over, and control of, women and those men who it considers heretics, non-believers or lesser beings.
There has also been a counter-reformation within Judaism (Jewish Zionism) and Christianity (Christian Zionism), both of them have re-asserted forms of patriarchal domination and their alleged sectarian pre-eminence over other forms of belief. Hindu radicalism and Buddhist extremism are also becoming more aggressive in and among the communities adhering to these alternative patriarchal ideologies. The common denominator in all these disparate fundamentalist ideologies and militant movements is the continued domination and aggression of men.
However, the Islamic form of militant patriarchy as exemplified by the Taliban, Boko Haram, and now the Sunni Islamic State of Iraq and al Sham (ISIS or ISIL) are the most recent to demonstrate that their ultimate purpose is not merely to intimidate or terrorise as individuals and sects but to directly govern, land, resources and people. Facing them in battle over the land and resources of Iraq are a different group of Shia patriarchs organised by the puppet Iraqi state government. The latter being promoted to power after the invasion and occupation by Christian patriarchs of the US, UK and Europe.
What we are witnessing in much of the middle-east is an ongoing struggle between one set of elite religious males against another, both sides backed by other male-dominated elites based elsewhere – in Iran, Saudi or the west. Each side has its own version of patriarchal ideology which justifies its actions and is used to recruit rank and file troops largely of working class composition. On the 100th anniversary of the commencement of the brutal First World War, these working class troops are again being recruited to become the perpetrators of murder against each other and to become used as cannon-fodder in the struggle for supremacy by one sides elite males over the other.
A clash of fundamentalisms.
The media framing of these struggles as being between democracy and terrorism misses the essential social and economic foundations of this war of patriarchal fundamentalisms. It is undoubtedly a fact that on the ground two forms of Islamic religious fundamentalism, Shia and Sunni are again at war with each other in Iraq, but there is more to it than this. Incidentally, these recent events in Iraq suggest that what is actually happening is a Sunni uprising against a pro-USA Shia administration, led or facilitated by the militant patriarchs of the ISIS.
Moreover, these different Islamists are not the only fundamentalists involved in Iraq. It is almost universally acknowledged that these ancient patriarchal religious tensions were transformed from simmering to boiling point by the fundamentally aggressive invasion of Iraq by the allied forces of the US, the UK and Europe in 2003. The latter three being poised to aid – in one form or another – the Shia side of this patriarchal struggle.
It is generally overlooked in the current media simplification and distortion that these western capitalist elites who ordered the illegal invasion of Iraq, namely Bush, Blair (and perhaps) their supporters, were also ‘born-again’, male, religious Christian elites. Moreover, these two figure-heads were the leaders of completely male-dominated states which were universally committed to a form of economic market fundamentalism known as neo-liberalism. Their subsequent replacements in the US, UK and Europe are no less religious, no less neo-liberal and no less patriarchal.
What is being consistently ignored in mainstream media focus on terrorism, is that western, neo-liberal elites are just another form of male-led market fundamentalists who themselves, routinely orchestrate mass killings, torture and pillage – in the name of their own form of deep seated ideology. For some time now the obvious result has been that the male neo-liberal fundamentalism (of Anglo-Saxon and Christian origin) in the west has found itself being confronted in Iraq by two other brands of male fundamentalism (both of Arabic and Islamic origin.).
Typically all three sides in this aggressive male-centred competition for elite control and governance over people and resources, deny committing atrocities against each other and harming those who get in the way. Yet it is in the nature of patriarchal fundamentalists of all types to do exactly that. Collectively deluded, fundamentalists of all varieties imagine they have the right (divine, economic or intellectual) to direct the progress of the whole of humanity along the lines they designate.
The historical and contemporary record indicates that when they have sufficient power and armaments to attempt this, male fundamentalists of all kinds rarely hesitate to spill blood – innocent or not. God, religion and the needs of the market are the ideological fig-leafs of legitimacy for those elite men who seek to govern and exploit the rest of us.
A Renaissance of religion.
After the Second World War it was arrogantly assumed by the victors, that the partly secularised Anglo-Saxon male-dominated capitalist west would be the economic and political model the rest of the globe could be persuaded to follow. Having superficially relegated religion to the private spheres of life during the early development of capitalism, the male political elites left intact and supported the main structures of religion precisely because it left intact and inculcated the social characteristics of gullibility, deference and above all – male domination. The capitalist mode of production was a continuation of patriarchal rule under a new economic mode.
Not only that, but the Abrahamic religions in particular, by promoting the myth of an invisible male super-being, conveniently appears to give divine sanction to the continued domination of society by men – whatever the given mode of production or form of governance. The capitalist elites in the West have therefore used and supported all forms of religious ideology (Christian, Judaic, and Islamic) for the purposes of justifying their hierarchical rule and furthering their global expansion of exploitation and control.
Consequently, these pro-capitalist elite males have turned a blind eye to extreme patriarchal practices previously eliminated in Europe. Female oppression, genital mutilation, arranged marriages, child brides etc., have been tolerated as acceptable cultural diversity. This accommodation was done in order to gain support and compliance from religious elders in the countries of Europe and from religious patriarchs who govern foreign countries. This way cheap immigrant labour was imported into Europe which brought with it new voters for politicians who turned a blind-eye to ‘cultural’ oppression. All this modern so-called ‘politically correct’ accommodation to cultural patriarchy and oppression was (and continues to be), in order to gain re-election, access to compliant labour, material resources and markets.
Western elites have also funded and promoted religious fundamentalists in order to destabilise rival governments and those foreign elites who refuse access to resources that the capitalist mode of production needs. The result of all this support for religious forms of patriarchy is that the rights of Women, Children and non-believers have failed to advance in many parts of the world and have been eroded or abolished where they were once established. In many places the freedom to criticise religion has also been restricted either legally or by fear of physical harm to the critic. Contrast this 21st century reality with the following written in the late1950‘s.
“After the Reformation and the Renaissance, the forces of modernisation swept across the globe and secularisation, a corollary historical process, loosened the dominance of the sacred. In due course, the sacred shall disappear altogether , except possibly in the private realm.” (C. Wright Mills. The Sociological Imagination. Quoted in ‘God is Back. J Micklewait and A. Wooldridge.)
A continuation of Patriarchy.
How wrong that opinion turned out to be! Perhaps it would have been wiser of Mills to avoid prophesising the demise of ideologies which had been in existence for thousands of years and which most men continued to have a vested interest in perpetuating. Of course the meaningless abstraction used by Mills, ‘the forces of modernisation’ also served to obscure more than it revealed. These forces were capitalist economic and financial forces of exploitation sweeping ‘across the globe’ and were backed up by armed bodies of men in military uniform. Interestingly Mills was formulating these words just after a World War against another form of militant patriarchal fundamentalism this time known as Fascism.
These ‘forces of exploitation’ were, ‘in due course’, bound to be opposed in one way or another, and not surprisingly given the social hegemony of patriarchy, all those oppositions were led by male-dominated parties and movements. This was not the first time Christianised, Anglo-Saxon, capitalist male elites had been opposed by other male elites. Fascist type authoritarianism in Italy, Germany, Spain and elsewhere were all right-wing patriarchal movements opposed to the Anglo-Saxon form. The so-called communistic ‘left’ oppositions to European and North American male-dominated capitalism as they emerged in Europe, Russia, China, Cuba, and the Eastern bloc, were also hierarchical male-dominated parties and movements, with predictable outcomes.
So when we are invited to take one side or another of these male fundamentalists ideologies as they battle it out (and we frequently are) workers should exercise extreme caution. We need to remember that not one movement dominated by men to oppose other elite men has ever ended hierarchical exploitation of labour nor freed women from subordination. With the exception of the Women’s Liberation Movement of the mid-20th century, patriarchy has been an unchallenged given. Religious, social, family and political control by men remains a dominant material relationship perpetuated since the ascendancy of patriarchy over matrifocality.
Even many contemporary anti-capitalists remain unapologetically attached theoretically and practically to hierarchical forms of organisation and the domination of these by elite males. Many on the left still wish to be led by a charismatic male or become one themselves – within a male-dominated organisation of hierarchical structure. In other words much of the left wishes to perpetuate yet another patriarchal form which like every other promises to be better than all the others when they are elevated to power – whether by popular vote or revolution. Check out Lenin, Stalin and Mao’s record in the case of the latter.
Ideologies (fixed systems and dogma) are a part of the soft power used by males. Those ideologies which dominate, have many strands and these are woven into patterns of views by those who subscribe to them. Views and patterns that focus attention and opinions on the issues most favourable to their own perceived needs. Rarely will any of the current ideological positions, left, right or centre, identify patriarchy as being at the centre of their own continued existence. But the essence of their patriarchy reveals itself most starkly in the general day to day status and treatment of women and ‘others’ particularly during the ‘hard power’ of militarised aggression.
A challenge to Patriarchy.
Trapped inside its own paradigm, the best that bourgeois ideological criticism can produce within its patriarchal framework is to distinguish nuances among ‘good’ leaders and ‘bad’ leaders of various left, centre or right leanings. For example even on the revolutionary left Lenin is often summed up as a ‘good’ Bolshevik leader with perhaps a few flaws, Stalin a ‘bad’ one, with a few positive characteristics. However, this (often intricately) nuanced ‘best’ is not much of an advance over Feudal critics who could only distinguish between ‘good’ kings and ‘bad’ kings or earlier still in tribal religions the critics who merely distinguished between ‘good’ shepherds and ‘bad’ shepherds. The almost universal desire for a charismatic, intelligent, benign male leader indicates how deep patriarchy runs even on the political left.
The opportunity to escape this intellectual and organisational prison of patriarchy and dualism came with the development of the revolutionary-humanist perspective. Much of this perspective was developed by Karl Marx. His viewpoint recognised the need for a revolutionary transformation of the mode of production linked to the re-humanising of society. A future society freed of all forms alienation within and domination over human communities. This re-humanisation involves the criticism and serious rejection of patriarchal ideas and characteristics. Just as the unequal mode of production would have to be revolutionised so to would all material relationships among humanity – including within the family. As Marx noted;
“….the unequal distribution, both quantitative and qualitative, of labour and its products, hence property: the nucleus, the first form, of which lies in the family, where wife and children are the slaves of the husband. This latent slavery in the family, though still very crude, is the first property,..” (Marx German Ideology. My emphasis RR)
The essence of this implies a challenge to those men who identify with this particular revolutionary tradition not simply to be anti-capitalist, but to be simultaneously anti-patriarchal – with all that this involves personally and organisationally. It is not enough to be just pro women’s liberation, that is a necessary but far from sufficient position to adopt. Men need to transform themselves and thus transform the way they relate to others – including transforming their decisions of who to support or oppose.
To facilitate any revolutionary economic and social transformation the task for revolutionary-humanists is to challenge and change the mode of production and the dominant material relationships inherited from previous modes. The dominant material relationships of 21st century society are still class-based and patriarchal. The change needs to begin now. Marx again.
“…the relation of man to woman is the most natural relation of human being to human being. It therefore demonstrates the extent to which man’s natural behaviour has become human or the extent to which his human essence has become a natural essence for him, the extent to which his human nature has become nature for him.” (Marx 1844 Manuscripts.)
Roy Ratcliffe. (June 2014.)