Empire, Gender: an interview with Leading Light Commander Prairie Fire (Brennen Ryan)

featuring Brennen Ryan


Interview with Leading Light Commander Prairie Fire conducted on December 23, 2014

1. In your writings, we find the idea of a First World empire. How does this fit with the recent developments in Syria and Ukraine?

Thank you. There are a few things here. Firstly, it is important to look at the historical sweep, the big trends, not to get caught up what happens to be in front of us at any given time. Yes, there is a small flare up of what used to be called “inter-imperialist conflict” between the West and Russia. Syria and the Ukraine are the most visible examples, although there are some other smaller examples usually bordering Russia. Here I am thinking of South Ossetia and Transnistria. However, we have to have a sense of proportion. Even in my life time, inter-imperialist rivalry was so great that the world lived on the brink of nuclear holocaust. Conflicts between the West and the Soviet Union existed across the globe. In almost every Third World country, there were Western proxies fighting Soviet proxies. In Latin America alone, civil wars raged in many, perhaps most, countries at one time or another. When I was growing up, it was El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala that were in the headlines, but there were also countries like Granada, Colombia, and on and on. And this was just Latin America in the mid-1980s to late 1990s. This pattern was repeated across the Third World, and even in parts of eastern Europe. Look at the struggles between the West and Soviet Union over Indochina, the Middle East, or Africa. If you go back further, prior to the World Wars, then the inter-imperialist rivalry is even bigger in some ways. Just look at the scramble for Africa. All of Africa was divided up by the European powers. Inter-imperialist rivalry was so great that it led to a cycle of world wars, as Lenin predicted. The recent disputes between Russia and the West pale in comparison. The overall historical sweep is away from the kind of rivalry that existed in the past.

Secondly, it is not exactly accurate to say that inter-imperialist rivalry does not exist at all; rather, it is mitigated by other factors and  interests. In the past, communists listed several kinds of contradictions that existed in the world. They listed the contradiction between the imperialist powers, the contradiction between imperialism and oppressed nations, the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. The main way to interpret events and conflicts was through these lenses. Of the various kinds of contradictions, Maoists used to say the principal contradiction was between imperialism and oppressed nations. This meant, among other things, that this lens was more important than others in interpreting the world, understanding events, designing strategy. This outlook gave precedence to national liberation movements. This wasn’t to say that other contradictions did not exist, but they were pushed to a subordinate position. Although Maoists were usually good about identifying the principal contradiction, they were never good at saying which contradiction was second, which was third, etc., in importance. In any case, just because we say that a First World empire has emerged does not mean that inter-imperialist contradiction is non-existent. Obviously, there is a conflict between the West and Russia, albeit minor in the grand scheme of things. The growth of transnational capital checks what remains of national capital in the traditional imperial countries. The interests of the transnational capitalist class can override the interests of national capitalists that might remain in the imperialist countries. A lot of factors play into this: mutual reliance – such as the relation between the United States and Chinese economies, transnational institutions, governing bodies, treaties, NGO networks, policy think tanks, etc. All blunt the strength of the interests of national capitalists.

This also applies to pockets of the First World that may exist surrounded by the Third World. Patriotic bourgeois elements in a country like Brazil may still pursue their interests, but because of their standard of living, their quality of life, and how that is dependent on the broader First World Empire, their actions must also be understood as mitigated by the contradiction between the First World and Third World. In other words, the patriotic bourgeoisie still pushes for its interests, but only up to a certain point. Think of it this way: You might have a patriotic bourgeoisie that genuinely wants to develop their country industrially, might want to pursue a more independent foreign policy or whatever. This patriotic bourgeoisie might still come into conflict with the more traditionally comprador pole of the national bourgeoisie, who, let’s say, make their money based on being the middleman for a particular foreign power. So, there is a contradiction between the patriotic capitalist and the comprador capitalist. Or there is a contradiction between compradors who are connected to different imperialist powers. There have been numerous wars in the previous era between these different sections of the bourgeoisie in many, many countries. Today, these kinds of wars are less likely because the capitalist system has become much more stable. These kinds of conflicts between interests are often constrained by the limits set down by the First World Empire, often constrained by their interests as part of the First World itself. We can say that the principal contradiction is between the First World and Third World. Other contradictions still exist, like the contradiction between the old imperialist powers, like the contradiction between poles or segments of the nation bourgeoisie in poorer countries, but they are relegated to a subordinate position.

Thirdly, this has implications for those trying to make revolution. In the old days, a force seeking to make revolution could play one imperialist against another, one comprador against another, or play the patriotic bourgeoisie against the imperialists and the comprador bourgeoisie. Revolutionaries had a greater ability to seek material aid from competing forces. Revolutionaries were sometimes even able to lead a class alliance that included segments of the colonial bourgeoisie against the imperialists. For example, the Chinese revolution is one that mobilized segments of the Chinese bourgeoisie under Communist leadership against the Japanese imperialists. Because of the development of the First World and Empire, and the stability of the global capitalist system, capitalists all over the world have less room to maneuver against each other. They themselves may have various interests as capitalists, but they also may have interests as First Worldists. This means it is unlikely we will witness another world war. We cannot count on material aid from competing capitalists. There will be less and less opportunity for united front politics. We will have to walk on our own two feet.

2. You have also written extensively about gender. How do you see patriarchy today in countries like the United States?

People have to understand that not all females share the same conditions under patriarchy. The poor females in the Third World endure terrible conditions. They endure the horrors of both class and gender oppression, and other forms of oppression too. A female in the Third World may endure terrible exploitation of her labor in a Third World factory, yet she may also have to accept a position as subordinate to other males, including male workers, because of feudal traditionalism. She may have to make herself sexually available to the factory owner or to other males because of patriarchy. She may have severe restrictions on her sexual behavior. She may have little choice in marriage or divorce. Perhaps, against her will, she is married off to an old man she does not know. Perhaps she is part of a traditional caste that is obliged to turn over their children, including their daughters, to other castes. Or she is expected to labor in the home and at the factory, working far more than her husband. Or she is abused and controlled by her husband’s in-laws, forced to work for them all. These and many other kinds of oppression are a reality for millions and millions of females across the Third World. Capitalism, imperialism, often works with traditionalist or feudal patriarchy, to ensure control and obedience from women, to get more work, more labor, or to pay lower wages. Sometimes Maoists have identified this as a kind of semi-feudalism that affects women. These women are a core part of the proletariat. They are a core part of our revolutionary social base. They endure so much pain and suffering. They have nothing to lose but their chains.

We have to ask ourselves this: Who benefits from the oppression of these females in the Third World? Who benefits from the control of their bodies and labor? The answer is that the entire Empire benefits, both First World males and females benefit. This is what revisionists refuse to face. Just as laborers in the First World benefiting from imperialism become enemies of revolution, so too do females in the First World benefiting from imperialism and patriarchy inflicted against the Third World. As such, First World females are generally enemies of the liberation of Third World females.

This has created a very interesting situation in the United States. Traditional patriarchy has broken down in many ways. Traditionalism no longer governs relationships between men and women as it once did. Imperialism has created a situation where so much value flows to the First World from the Third World that US society can afford to extend social-democratic privileges to their entire populations, including women. Freedoms once reserved mainly for males are now granted to females. Opportunities once reserved mainly for males are granted to females. Like their male counterparts, females in the United States earn superwages, have First World lifestyles, comfort and security. Females in the United States are no longer forced to be “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen.” All of this is based on the exploitation of the Third World, the exploitation of Third World males and Third World females. There are some exceptions, like the lives of females in the Gulf Arab states, but on the whole, First World peoples, both males and females, have more and more life opportunities afforded to them. At the same time, Third World peoples, both males and females, have their life opportunities restricted. Just as it is a lie that First World workers and Third World workers share a common class interest, it is a lie that First World females and Third World females share a common gender interest. The advances of First Worldist feminism comes at the expense of both males and females in the Third World. Imperialism works with the worst forms of patriarchy, including feudal ones, to enslave Third World women and children to the benefit of First World populations, including First World women and children. The idea of a universal sisterhood of both First World and Third World females is a myth.

Even though traditionalism between men and women has broken down, which is a good thing, it has been replaced by new kinds of unhealthy relationships. Many personal relationships are terrible here. There is a greedy, self-centered culture where loyalty, care, love, and duty mean very little. Karl Marx pointed out the hypocrisy of the bourgeois who criticizes others as having no sexual morality, when capitalism itself has systematically turned relationships into a kind of generalized prostitution. Friedrich Engels stated very clearly that marriage under capitalism was really just a kind of prostitution. This observation is not new. Immanuel Kant wrote about how marriage is about mutual access to each other’s property and bodies, which may sound crude but is nonetheless an advance over how women were treated under feudal patriarchy. At least under the kind of liberal order Kant represents, women are granted the agency and rights to have some degree of power over their bodies. Marx stated that under capitalism, all that is holy is profaned. This is true for even the closest, most intimate relationships. I am reminded of Madonna’s hit from the 1980s, “Material Girl.” But it cuts both ways, there are plenty of  “Material guys” too. The pimp and hoe are idolized by a society of abusive dunces. The United States is a world of douche bags, assholes, hoes and bitches. A certain kind of patriarchal traditionalism has broken down to be replaced by a spectacle of new, liberal forms of mutual abuse. Of course this does not apply to every single person, but it is fairly pervasive. You have a lot of First Worldist revisionists that are spoon-fed their politics on sexuality and gender by liberals. They think it is somehow revolutionary to weigh into this muck on the side of First Worldist feminism. Thus they make themselves useful dupes in a struggle between imperial populations, between liberalism and traditionalism, or between one kind of liberalism and another kind of liberalism. Their alliance with First Worldist liberal intelligentsia, the left wing of the Democratic Party, on these issues ends up discrediting these revisionists to the very poorer communities in the First World they claim to represent. The revisionists end up looking like a bunch of whiners and weenies, losing all respect among ordinary people, including ordinary women. It is a comedy of errors that is entertaining to watch. You get epic struggles over which pronouns to use with transgendered people, or the proper terms for this-or-that sexual identity, or out-of-touch polemics over the use of the term “faggot” or “bitch.” Yet there are few who have the courage to really look at the system in a real way, as Marx and Engels did. People are too intimidated by the liberal consensus. Lifestylism, identity politics, liberalism of various forms passes itself off as Marxism and revolutionary feminism. The reality is that this whole emphasis, this whole type of politics, is one that exists because of imperialism. By contrast, Leading Lights are real communists, proletarian feminists. Our feminism is one that begins with the truly exploited and oppressed masses of the Third World. Our people are the those truly oppressed by global patriarchy in the Third World, not those who happen to be women, but nonetheless benefit from Empire. Our concern is with the oppressed, not the oppressor.

3. You write about rejecting traditionalism and liberalism with proletarian feminism. Can you elaborate?

We reject the black flag of fascist and feudal traditionalism. We also reject the rainbow flag of liberal Empire. Imperialism is still imperialism be it black or pink. We advocate proletarian feminism, proletarianism. Past revolutions pioneered this way of living, although they did not go far enough. If you look at the Soviet Union or Maoist China in their revolutionary moments, they sought to move beyond traditional gender restrictions, traditional gender expectations, etc. They put a good deal of effort into debunking traditionalism. At the same time, they did not fall into the liberal free-for-all of use and abuse that exists today. Women were portrayed as capable industrial workers, capable warriors, capable leaders. Women and men were portrayed as strong, as intelligent, as heroic. But women were also portrayed as beautiful, as healthy, as women, also, as mothers. The unity between proletarian men and women was emphasized, the common bond, common interest, common destiny. It is important to break down artificial barriers that traditionalism erects, but not fall into the liberal free-for-all. We need to grant freedom and opportunity, but within the context of keeping strong communal bonds. We need to expand opportunity as a means of advancing men and women in their common proletarian destiny to reach Leading Light Communism.

4. We don’t have much time left. I’ll set this up quick. Some people say that biology is a social construct. They say not only gender, but also biological sex is made up. What do you think?

Men and women obviously have important biological differences. Evolution has designed us differently in some respects. Some of the most obvious differences are the sex organs, but surely there are psychological or neurological differences too. Some liberals will point out that there are cases of people who fall between male and female, perhaps having ambiguous sex organs. They then say “ah! ha! Male and female do not exist! Binaries are make believe!” This is ridiculous. Sexual dimorphism exists not just in humans, but in most, almost all, complex species. Just because there are some anomalies, just because a minority is ambiguous, does not mean a male/female spectrum does not exist.

We need to promote healthy and liberating conceptions of gender that also strengthen our people and advance us toward our common destiny. However, we should not put a dunce cap on our head and pretend that our biology is exactly the same when it is not. We need an intelligent approach to gender, one that is informed not just by the history of oppression, but also by the realities of biology.

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