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(en) Italy, FDCA, Cantier #24: Mujeres Libres "Emancipate yourself from capitalist exploitation and patriarchal oppression" - Daniele Ratti (ca, de, it, pt, tr)[machine translation]

Date Tue, 2 Apr 2024 08:15:25 +0300

In the twentieth century, Spain was not involved in the renewal of customs that occurred in the Western world, the country continued to be the bastion of the Catholic tradition, the faithful guardian of the most authentic patriarchy: God, homeland, family were the founding values of the national-Catholic tradition. In fact it was a remnant of the culture of the counter-reformation, which in the Iberian Peninsula was preserved almost intact from 1500 until the dawn of the twentieth century. The thought and behaviour, both of individuals and of a good part of society, did not know or were not able to practice, if not with difficulty, the exercise of doubt and the freedom of choices in the philosophical, political, scientific field that a large part of the Western world has given time he experimented. The Spanish legislative system placed men at the top of the social system and women in a totally subordinate position even within the family. The woman's task, if unmarried, was to take care of the original family unit, and if married, her own; only alternative: monastic life. There was another possibility to escape from family control or clerical prison, that of work, even if unlike other industrialized European countries - such as France, Germany, Great Britain - entry into the world of work occurred late. The majority of employed women were domestic workers: although there was an increase due to urbanization and industrialisation, in 1934 34% of the female population was employed within the home. It should be underlined that employment was an appendage of family authority, in fact it was strictly subordinated to marital control, whose consent was necessary to carry out any activity and to have the free availability of one's salary, which could be collected by the husband even in case of separation.

The condition of maids is particularly harsh, excluded from the eight-hour day, from unemployment and maternity contributions, and without accident coverage. Women's salaries were significantly lower than men's, half in agriculture, 47% in textiles and 41% in metalworking. The traditional cultural political magazines were the tools through which anarchist women approached politics and social issues; but the need for a specifically female form of aggregation was soon realized. It was therefore the historic militants and collaborators of the libertarian and anarcho-syndicalist newspapers such as Solidaridad Obrera, UMBRAL, CNT, El Libertario, TIERRA Y LIBERTAD, who took the initiative to give life to a newspaper that was not a mere appendix to the existing anarchist newspapers. However, it was the failure of the proletarian revolt in Asturias in October 1934, which determined a strong solidarity impulse within the Spanish left as a whole, facilitating revolutionary aggregations even in the libertarian world. In fact, it was precisely at the end of 1934 that a group of militant women of the CNT in Barcelona began to plan a women's group, eventually establishing the Gruppo Cultural Feminino in early 1935. The decisive step for the birth of Mujeres Libres occurred in November 1935, when the offer of the director of Solidaridad Obrera to create a women's page in that periodical was rejected, and therefore the decision was made to create a magazine for libertarian women committed first and foremost to women's emancipation. The decision was made following the difficulties that the companions encountered in their daily relationships with the male universe.

Explicit was the denunciation of the anarchist comrade Lucia Sancez Saornil of the problems that female workers encountered in the anarcho-syndicalist movement on the level of equality compared to their male companions, due to the relationships they had with them in their private lives.

According to her, her companions were chauvinists who wanted the woman to only take care of them and the family and who had no political and social conscience. In this way, patriarchy emerged within the domestic walls, even among anarchist families. On the part of the Mujeres Libres it was argued with extreme clarity that <the propaganda for female involvement must not be done among us women, but among our comrades, since if they maintain that all human beings are equal they must recognize that human beings include woman, although considered a passive being dedicated to household chores>. In summary, the question of the division of gender roles, in society and in the family, was decisive for the decision to create a specific organization for women. In other words, the political message was clear: what the comrade dreams of for the future, equality and justice, must be applied today.

In Madrid on 2 May 1936 - at the beginning of the revolution - the first issue of Mujeres Libres was published, which was then published until 1938. The magazine was both the arrival and starting point of a series of initiatives, conferences and discussions , debates, in libertarian universities, in magazines, rationalist schools. Education courses, contacts with other women's groups and individual women were organised. At the outbreak of the civil war, in July 1936, there were direct contacts between the Madrid group, which had created the magazine, and the Gruppo Cultural Feminino of Barcelona. The military revolt did not put an end to the experience of the Mujeres Libres, in fact in the republican zone various groups came to life which took the name of Mujeres Libres, which took care of various tasks. The outcome of the war will have a decisive influence on the fate of the Mujeres Libres. In the first months of revolutionary enthusiasm, many militia women had left for the front. A great transformation occurred in the private sphere and in social relations.

Many anarchist women, as well as those of other political orientations, left their homes to live with their partners, whether male or female. The image of the woman with the rifle was the icon of the revolution, it also had a galvanizing character for women, it represented a complete split with the traditional Catholic "angel of the hearth", it was the end of the subordinate female role and represented the first steps of female autonomy, although, it is worth remembering, it did not concern the majority of women, who carried out their tasks behind the lines, employed in the traditional roles of assistance and care reserved for women. It is no coincidence that the republican "normalisation", after the first revolutionary months, "restored order" starting first of all with the militiamen, placing them in the "regular" republican departments. Even the practical activities organized by the companions were inevitably conditioned by war events. The activities were conceived and designed to have an immediate and positive return in the context of war events and it could not be otherwise. Courses were started for practical knowledge of agriculture and poultry farming, to then be used in agricultural communities, courses for professional categories that had always been considered masculine for use in the war industry, such as assemblers, welders, millers, in the railway and aeronautical sectors. In the field of urban transport, women became involved as drivers and ticket collectors. Among the various activities, it is worth mentioning the campaigns against prostitution, focused on female dignity, the "feminine prostitucion laboratories" were created, offering various possibilities for professional alternatives, a project that failed due to the difficult circumstances of the war. Beyond the social activism of the Mujeres Libres, their political weight was very modest and there was always a strong suspicion that the movement was something secondary to Iberian anarchism. For this reason, in October 1938 the companions asked the plenary general assembly of the Spanish libertarian movement for full recognition, which however never came, in fact they were never recognized as an autonomous group neither by the FAI nor by the CNT, nor by Juventus Libertarias, complaining that "our organization and our purpose have remained misunderstood.

They have been deaf to our every request for help." The outcome was negative and the request was rejected with the disconcerting reason that "a women's organization would be an element of disunity and inequality for the movement (...) and would have negative consequences for the future development of the interests of the working class". The story should not be too surprising, considering that for anarchists it was not obvious that they would distance themselves from a cultural context that for centuries had permeated Spain with a brutal chauvinism, supported and fueled profoundly by Catholic social values and practices, which had constituted the essence of Spanish culture, for which the division of roles between men and women was the foundation of the family and society. In summary, the concrete help from the libertarian movement was very limited: from an economic point of view it was limited to some space in the libertarian press or some meeting rooms.

In general the attitude towards the Mujers Libres was one of benevolent compliance, towards demonstrations considered lively, but of secondary importance. Above all, it was the widespread puritanism that was disconcerted by the disenchanted ways in which the companions addressed the issues of sexuality and was the real issue of conflict between companions and companions. Naturally, outside the anarchist universe, the movement was considered quite picturesque and the subject of various slanders. It seems appropriate to report Concha Liano's observations: ...our aspiration was to be the female branch of the libertarian movement, in the same way that the youth were in the juventudes Libertaria. It is very painful to recognize it and even more so to express it, but our liberated anarchist comrades, who fought for the liberation of the proletariat, missed in the analyzes that the Spanish woman, as a worker, suffered like them from the yoke of capitalism, and even worse, for the same work he received a lower salary, and as a human being in society, his situation could not be more degrading and opprobrious: a minor adult being (...). So our companions did not want to recognize us as the female branch of the libertarian movement.

And this attitude caused us much amazement and resentment. We MUJERES LIBRES, presented our movement with an organization on a silver platter and they rejected us. The aid was very small sums, the bare minimum, but we appreciated them for what they were worth>. Mujeres LIbres was the first movement that clearly expressed the duplicity of the working woman's program of action: emancipation from capitalist exploitation on the one hand and from patriarchal oppression on the other. For this reason it distinguished itself from the women's organizations of the time, as a pioneer of subsequent feminism: although its militants did not accept the denomination feminist, because they considered it a word with bourgeois and suffragist reminiscences. In any case, with much shortage and with their difficulties, the girls of MUJERES Libres continued their fight on all fronts imposed by the dramatic situation of the civil war, and against the prevailing morality towards women. During the civil war the Mujeres Libres found themselves without support from the CNT on one side and on the other having to face the maneuvers of the Asociacion Mujieres Antifascitas (AMA) under the control of the Stalinist communists. The call for the merger of women's organizations was always declined. They never renounced their autonomy and never agreed to subordinate themselves to pre-existing anarchist and libertarian organizations, nor to act as a transmission belt for anything, maintaining the awareness of the fact that only if self-managed would female action allow the achievement of the goals of their battle. Autonomy that allowed the Mujeres Libres not to fall into the bourgeois and communist trap of anti-fascist unity and above all not to make the women's question an object of exchange, within the framework of political compromises.

The women who started Mujers Libres preferred to define their movement as "feminine" rather than feminist, in order to dissociate themselves from bourgeois feminist associations.

Integral humanism was the term considered most appropriate. Freedom and respect for the person operated as founding values, a woman's freedom was understood as the possibility of choosing what she wanted to be, outside of fixed roles or stereotypes, even those of the liberated woman or the revolutionary woman, so that all oppressive social theoretical models were questioned. This female solidarity with its forms of social assistance, such as taking care of the children of workers and the organization of popular refectories, was the concrete response to the selfishness and injustices of which the Spanish woman was the victim. The Mujeres Libres combined the women's question with the class struggle, within the framework of a solidarity that was characterized as integral humanism. In conclusion, judging the experience of Mujeres Libres only on the basis of what their short history has produced would be a gross mistake. Not only for the fact that this experience came to life for a short period, but above all because it took place in a troubled time to say the least, marked by the most tragic civil war that the West can remember. Therefore the actions were heavily influenced by the war events and it is objectively difficult to understand what the actual impact on the social body was.

Too often the "experiments" and projects have been short-lived, making it almost impossible to fully evaluate their effects and this applies in general to all the achievements that the libertarian anarchist world, in its brief Iberian "spring", has achieved starting from collectivizations. What was totally innovative, however, especially in the Spanish reality, was having simply imagined and created a totally feminine space starting from the aggregation of women, which was not the appendage of a political organization inevitably male-oriented but it was, for the first time, an organization designed, built and managed by women. This fact was never fully accepted by the male component of the libertarian movement and could not be, after centuries of ferocious patriarchy, further sanctified by the Jesuit culture of which Spain was the world standard bearer. The Mujeres Libres carried out a double revolution, the social one and that of gender and interpersonal relations: at the time, no one was capable of fully recognizing the value of this project. The dream was to solve the problems of women in their society, providing operational examples in a short time. The merit was that of insisting on the fact that the struggle of working women would not end with the disappearance of the capitalist system, but only when patriarchy and female subordination were suppressed, and above all the contemporaneity of their principles, struggle of gender and class. This principle was not understood at that time, neither by their comrades, nor by many anarchist militant women, nor by the workers' women's organizations that did not question patriarchy.

This is the legacy of Mujeres Libres.

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