[Marxism] Protesters: War a man's issue

Ian Pace ian at ianpace.com
Sat Jul 29 21:47:49 MDT 2006

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Joaquin Bustelo" <jbustelo at bellsouth.net>
To: "'Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition'" 
<marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
Sent: Sunday, July 30, 2006 4:19 AM
Subject: RE: [Marxism] Protesters: War a man's issue

> Jesse Jack writes: "I wouldn't be surprised to hear that women are more
> 'anti-war' in general, but this whole argument is a red herring. Men don't
> gain from war. As a man, I haven't gained anything from war other than the
> fear of being conscripted. If men happen to be over-represented in the
> ruling class that DOES gain from war, it doesn't mean much because that
> class is such a minute percentage of the total population. The truth is 
> that
> class struggle is the root of this conflict; blaming it on one gender only
> obscures the point."
> I think it only takes the briefest glance at history to blow this position
> to smithereens. WAR IS A PROFOUNDLY GENDERED PHENOMENON. There's simply no
> way to take up war without recognizing its gendered nature. Moreover, I
> believe it is not possible to derive the gendered nature of war strictly 
> and
> solely from class, for the very simple reason that gender predates class,
> patriarchy is the original hierarchical model.
> It strikes me as profoundly *silly*  to try to pretend gender does not 
> play
> a central role in armed conflict since it quite obviously and 
> transparently
> does.
> That anyone would even try highlights something that should be said out
> loud.
But do you not accept that soldiers on the front lines of wars are 
themselves workers (frequently conscripted) who are being sent to do the 
bidding of the ruling classes. And one could have a situation where women 
are equally represented in the armed forces, and this situation would not 
necessarily change? War empirically has been a gendered phenomenon, but I am 
not convinced that a less gendered form of warfare would in essence be so 
different in terms of its results. And a country like Israel, where women 
serve in the armed forces in large number (though, to qualify this, I 
believe they tend to be relegated to the more menial tasks) leads to this 
question being raised quite profoundly. Is there much evidence of Israeli 
women en masse constituting a powerful opposition to that country's imperial 
and militaristic actions? The impression I've always had is that whilst 
there are probably more Israeli women opposing such things than there are 
men, still a very clear majority is firmly behind them.

War is a gendered phenomenon, but it is a class phenomenon even more. The 
abolition of the classes that exist under capitalism would change the nature 
of war profoundly. Efforts to make war less gendered would not necessarily 
do so, in my opinion. Sex predates class (I use the former term because 
'gender' is a social construct rather than a biological fact); however 
because certain paradigms go back further in history does not necessarily 
mean they are the most crucial ones today. Because societies have been 
structured primarily in terms of gender does not imply that class is not 
equally if not more important now.

There was some historian (I forget her name) who produced some new work on 
World War I around 1998, I think, at the time of the 70th anniversary. She 
went through a load of soldiers' letters, trying to puncture the classical 
socialist interpretation of the war (the working classes of both countries 
being made, coerced, into pointing their guns at each other to serve the 
ruling classes' imperialist interests). She found in these letters a lot of 
enthusiasm for the fighting (at least before it began), and used these to 
argue against the 'reluctant cannon fodder' model. Because these soldiers 
were enthusiastic, if I remember rightly she concluded that the war sprang 
more from innate male militarism rather than anything else. But I think that 
is too easy an explanation, though convenient to bourgeois interests which 
want to take class out of the equation altogether. It neglects the power of 
propaganda in producing militaristic and nationalistic sentiments. If one 
takes a radical feminist point of view, war comes about because it is innate 
in masculinity, which is a more important factor than anything else. But 
that is a very crude and essentialist caricature that takes no account of 
the economic interests which motivate wars and imperial conquest. I do not 
believe as Marxists this is a model that is compatible with core ideas. Nor 
do I believe that societies with a greater number of women in positions of 
power and influence would necessarily take a radically different approach to 
imperialism, militarism, etc. There are fiercely anti-war men and fiercely 
pro-war women. Attitudes to these things and their relationship to gender 
are surely about social conditioning.


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