Victimology/maquiladora women

Philip Ferguson plf13 at
Sun Dec 10 21:38:22 MST 2000

I seem to recall there was some discussion on this subject about a year
ago.  (I thought Jon Flanders' position made the most sense.)

Yoshie writes:
>>Just for the sake of an argument, let's say we have no reason to
>>agree with Debbie Nathan on any part of her representation of women
>>Maquila workers.  However, it is not at all the case that you have to
>>write like Debbie Nathan to eschew the representation of women
>>Maquila workers as "passive victims."

To which Lou Pr replied:
>Yoshie, I have no idea what you are trying to say.

I have no idea who Debbie Nathan is or anything about her, and I have
little taste for the postmodernist (and autonomist Marxist) tendency to
present workers as active agents in every situation, as if (certainly in
the case of types of postmodernists) the most oppressed/depressed
cases/forms of prostitution can be presented as some kind of meaningful
lifestyle choice which 'subverts' the 'patriarchy'.

But, surely, the distinction Yoshie is making is clear.  Namely, that even
in many of the most oppressive collective work environments resistance
takes place - or at least has the potential of taking place.  That, at the
very least, the potential exists for workers - in this case women workers
in particular - to be active agents in these situations.

Lou Pr:
>Let me explain my own thinking, however, for what it's worth. Marxists have
>very little interest in "victimology" per se. The only issue worth
>considering is whether the proletarianization of women in maquiladora
>conditions hastens the Mexican revolution. Based on a dogmatic reading of
>Marx, I have seen this argument made, particularly from Doug when he still
>maintained a shred of Marxist credibility. It revolves around a schematic
>understanding of the Communist Manifesto, a statement made in 1848 not only
>before Marx had written V. 1 of Capital, but at a time when there were
>still lingering beliefs that when peasants were turned into wage workers,
>the objective conditions for socialism were somehow enhanced. This kind of
>undialectical approach was rejected by Marx in the 1870s when he saw the
>solidarity-building power of the rural communes in Russia.

Marx didn't just make this kind of point in the Manifesto.  It can be found
throughout 'Capital' as well and later works.

The point is that Marx was not *dogmatic* one way or another.  In the
Russian case, he thought, at one point, that industrial capitlaism could be
leapt over and that peasant communes may form the basis for a socialist
society, especially if revolutions took place in the industrially developed

Of course, we know that this did not happen, and that industrial capitlaism
did develop in Russia.  This faced Lenin (and Trotsky) with a different
scenario, just as it would have Marx had he lived a few decades later.  The
question then becomes *what do you do when industrial capitalism does

Neither Marx nor Lenin (nor Trotsky) *counterposed* pre-capitalist forms to
industrial capitalism *once a particular society had significantly

>In point of fact, the very same processes were soon at work in the Mexican
>revolution. Rural communally-owned land provided the major impetus for the
>Zapatista revolution, which in a counter-blow to the hacienda system,
>created what Adolfo Gilly calls the Morelos commune. Zapata divided the
>hacienda land based on deeds awarded to Indians in the 16th and 17th
>century, which the peasants set about to develop along anarcho-syndicalist
>lines (the sugar refineries were expropriated as well.) Anarchists provided
>much of the ideological input to the Zapata revolt, with both positive and
>negative effects.

And this is fine.  But if Russia changed between the time of Marx's famous
letter to Zasulich (I think it was to her?) and the time of the Bolsheviks,
Mexico has changed even more between the era of Zapata and the era of
Vicente Fox.

Once a certain amount of industrial capitalist development has taken place
- and in the absence of social revolutions in any of the imperialist
centres - the possibility of 'leaping over' from pre-capitalist forms of
organisation to post-capitalist ones is taken off the political agenda.
The possibility just doesn't exist, regardless of what any of us may think
about it.

>Bringing the struggle forward in time to the recent period, the maquilas in
>the northern part of the country have not been arenas of struggle, either
>for the woman's movement, the socialist movement, or the trade union

But why should this be a permanent feature?  Why assume passivity and
victimhood as the only possible response/outcome.

If it is true that these areas
>have not been arenas of struggle, either
>for the woman's movement, the socialist movement, or the trade union

then isn't that to the discredit of the women's, socialist and trade union
movements in Mexico?  Shouldn't they be trying to organise these areas?
Shouldn't such work be a priority of Mexican leftists?  And shouldn't US
leftists be trying to provide every assistance in this?

What is the alternative?  For NGOs, Ivy League students, nationalistic
trade unions worried about 'cheap labour competition' etc etc in the US to
campaign to close down these zones and pack the women back off to their

>Women, stripped of the communal bonds of the village, end up as
>atomized wage slaves whose only escape from grinding low-wage labor is
>downtown honky-tonks. From a certain sector of the left, these social
>changes are wrenched from the underlying class realities of Mexican society
>and put up against a prism made in the graduate sociology or woman's
>studies departments of Ivy League universities. It is hogwash, pure and

Marx wrote about the brutal conditions faced by women (and men) working in
factories in Victorian England.  He and Engels also noted how this often
led to atomisation and all that goes with it - drunkenness and violence etc
- rather than political resistance.  They did not, however, draw the
conclusion that this was *inevitable* and that factories should be closed
down and the emerging proletariat be dispatched back to England's green and
pleasant fields.

>The only political action taking place in the maquila zone is defense of
>the right to live and to be protected from rape, being led by a courageous
>feminist. Any other interpretation seems bogus to me. As far as whether the
>term "passive victim" is useful or useless--leaving aside questions of
>'victimology' per se, let me supply the context:
>The New York Times, April 18, 1998, Saturday, Late Edition - Final
>Rape and Murder Stalk Women in Northern Mexico

And this is exactly the kind of article that Marx would (and did) make use
of to show the brutality of industrial capitalism and take the shine off
the glowing speeches and cant of the bourgeoisie and their ideologues.

However, to the question 'What is to be done?', Marx's answer was the
organisation of the individual, exploited, brutalised, atomised workers,
*into a class* for the purpose of *struggle for their liberation* and thus
the liberation of humankind.


More information about the Marxism mailing list