Flora Tristan, Women and Reparation
By John Taylor; 2010 Jan 22, Sultan 04, 166 BE
"King as thou art, free speech at least is mine
To make reply; in this I am thy peer."
(Teiresias, in Oedipus Rex)
I have been researching the life and writings of Flora Tristan. Never heard of her? She is the one that Marx and Engels plagiarized to write their Communist Manifesto. She died several months after the Bab declared His mission, in November of 1844. Every educated person is expected to have heard of these two truculent men whose Manifesto, it has been said, makes everyone who reads it want to go out and kill a member of the bourgeoisie.
But nobody outside of France and Peru has even heard of her.
Extremes and extremism hit the mark. Her more moderate message was too nice, too womanly and conciliatory. She called for a union of workers, not a violent slave revolt. She called for constructive cooperatives, not forced egalitarianism. She believed in God, Marx and Engel were atheists. She called not only for equality of women but also for a "moralizing mission" for women, one which, I must say, feminism has not consistently picked up on, to say the least. In any case, Tristan wrote something about the equality of the sexes that I had never thought of before. Here it is:
"By a very simple calculation it is obvious that wealth will increase indefinitely when women (half of the human race) are summoned to bring into social service their intelligence, strength, and ability. This is as easy to understand as that two is double one." (Flora Tristan, "A Passage From Flora Tristan's l'Union Ouvriere," Translated by Doris and Paul Beik, http://www.mtholyoke.edu/courses/rschwart/hist255/at/tristan_text.html)
In the 170 odd years since she wrote that women have gained many rights, and indeed wealth has increased "indefinitely." Unfortunately, way over 80 percent of that wealth remains in the hands of a tiny, mostly male, minority. That elite keeps its arms firmly hugging its pile of money by the old tactic of divide and rule. Divide everything into groups and ideologies, then let some groups, the ones the elite sponsors, win out over all the others. The elite robs women of the right to enjoy the legitimate fruits of their labour. It keeps the vast majority of the human race in rags, as it did in Flora Tristan's time. It maintains its stranglehold by committing what I call:
A Crime Against Democracy
The law does not allow ER doctors to set off bombs in the street so as to injure people and drum up business. As soon as they do that, they cease to be healers and become terrorists. We can all see that if an individual subverts society, it is a crime. Carpenters cannot destroy buildings to reduce unemployment for their own. That is a crime. However, if a group with the proper connections does the same thing, well, we are less clear about that. Depends on the group.
"If the First Amendment has any force, it prohibits Congress from fining or jailing citizens, or associations of citizens, for simply engaging in political speech." - JUSTICE ANTHONY M. KENNEDY, writing for the majority in a Supreme Court decision overturning a ban on political spending by corporations." (Today's Headlines, New York Times on the Web, January 22, 2010)
This is a far-reaching ruling. It makes corporations untouchable. A corporation cannot even be punished, according to this, for using its legitimate right to free speech. Even if, as is now happening, that group's speech negates both the power of the people and the free speech of most individuals.
According to everything I have been reading and thinking lately, this is wrong.
There is a huge difference between what this judge equates here as indistinguishable: citizens and groups of citizens. They are not the same thing, and to treat them as such is injustice, pure and simple. You can either protect free speech for citizens or for groups, but not both. Citizens are human beings made of flesh and blood, created by God. Groups of citizens are creations of the human mind, not God. The former take precedence over the latter. Groups are a convenience, an appliance, nothing more.
For example, if everybody in the world voted to kill one innocent individual, they would not have the right to do so. Even if that individual agreed with them that he should die, that unanimous, universal vote would not suffice to make taking a life legal and moral. Like God, the human being, in Kant's language, an end in itself. The rights of the individual must be kept sacred and inalienable, and groups must defer to that. Groups may have certain rights, but they are necessarily conditional. Groups are expendable. If we extend to groups anything like the God-given rights that humans have, we negate the human rights of people.
This is why this supreme court ruling misses the point.
There is a crucial difference between a law-abiding group expressing its point of view and a company or interest group spending more money than the average citizen can hope to gain in a lifetime in order to corrupt the democratic process, to subvert the machinery of making laws. That is an act of subversion even more harmful than setting a bomb in a public place.
It is a crime against democracy.
Democracy is a tool designed to give the people equal access to free expression. Any group that subverts inalienable individual rights is, by definition, an enemy of the people, in other words, a monster.
This is not a new story. Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein immediately was understood as a metaphor for the newly invented corporate being, the charter company.
So the question remains: How do you fight a monster?
You cage it. You remove its ability to harm the people. The only just choice, then, is to take away the right to unfettered free speech from all companies, corporations, agencies, pressure groups, advertisers, any group at all. Take away their right to spend for such purposes; make it an exclusive human right, not a corporate one.
Pass strict laws forbidding corporations or any other interest group from spending money for anything other than strictly limited purposes. They can free talk about what is related to their corporate charter, a charter that is open and subject to revision by a ruling constitution. But only when such talk is in the public interest.
Advertising especially should be suspect. Let drug companies spend money on making better drugs, not on subverting health and society by making people perceive drug taking as an unavoidable necessity. Let a company discuss what it does with potential clients, but anything more broadcast is mental pollution, and should be repressed with the same severity that chemical pollution and the release of greenhouse gases is, or should be.
In a just world, and a just world will only be possible after the formation of a world government, we can expect that groups will be relegated to second place, after human beings. God will rise above human imagination. In that case, reparations will be due to women for the ongoing robbery over past centuries of their rightful share of the wealth.
Although some of what Flora Tristan now seems dated, I think the following points to where these reparation payments should go: to the level of the household, the domain of women, and the most neglected part of society.
"Woman is everything in the life of the workers. She is their sole providence. If she fails them, everything fails them. Consequently it is said: `It is the woman who makes or unmakes the household,' and this is the exact truth; that is why a proverb has been made of it. But what education, what teaching, what direction, what moral or physical development does the woman of the common people receive? None." (Ibid.)