Flora Tristan, a Forerunner Woman: Second Edition. 2012

Flora Tristan, a Forerunner Woman: Second Edition. 2012

by Magda Portal

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781466934146
Publisher: Trafford Publishing
Publication date: 05/29/2012
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.55(d)

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Flora Tristan, A Forerunner Woman


By Magda Portal

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2012 Magda Portal
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4669-3414-6


Chapter One

THE WOMEN'S SITUATION IN PERU

I consider it a duty to expose in this preface the actual status of women in Peru, though brief, up to where she shows herself in her diverse vital connotations and within the technological advancements and great socio-political changes.

I believe that I am not mistaken in saying that the vast majority of women in Peru continue to be relegated to the situation of minors, under male guardianship and subject to restrictions that coerce her liberty, yielding to the imposition of obsolete laws that impede them from discovering new horizons that could raise her level within society. Her identification is revealing: "Profession: Housewife", which define her by the limits of her existence as being solely dedicated to the obligation of serving in the home, caring for children and the husband within conventional activities.

Nevertheless, it should be pointed out there exists a good percentage of women of legal age who have achieved the breaking of obstacles and prejudices that tie them to ignorance, leisure and conformity. It is obvious that at this time, all of the education centers—universities, academies, colleges, etc.—are populated by girls, who invade their classrooms with the desire to broaden in their knowledge, as per their economic abilities, since the State does not promote free higher level studies nor any other than primary school.

If the class based society in which we find ourselves, stimulated the many young women, anxious to continue their studies, it would be easy to note that they make up more than 50% of the female students and that most of them finish their studies and find a place in professional institutions, although they are not offered the best positions.

But in Peru, it isn't just the capital city. Our country with its 25 departments, with a population close to 20 million of which 51 % are women, still determines the normal development of the feminine element, under pressure by the demands they face in the struggle for life without relying on the protection of the farsighted State.

The provinces lack the facilities that the capital can offer and although in the main departments there are universities because of the population and economic abilities, these are not as complete as in the capital, from whence comes the exodus of most of the students. Generally, the provincial girls reach middle studies and for economic reasons, they are not able to gain access to upper education. From there, family obligations and age throw a woman into marriage, cutting outright any enthusiasm for education, intellectual or professional overcoming. The few who do reach it, do so thanks to their economic situation. Women, therefore, remain in a lesser valued situation in which she has to develop a future that is free from economic tutelage and has broader horizons.

INDIGENOUS WOMEN

The Peruvian population is made up of a high percentage of ethnic groups that are considered inferior, coming from the mountains and the jungles. Indigenous women are accustomed to misery and the indifference of public powers. They withstand their abandonment with philosophical resignation, yet they do not seem to lose hope for a better day. Hardworking women who are peasants, social workers, midwives, do not get adequate time off and continue to be subjected to an abnormal situation, verging on the age of feudalism or slavery. Cases still exist where girls from the mountains or the jungles are imported so that they come 'down' to the capital to serve in Lima homes or in provincial capitals, where they are subjected to inhuman treatment without any law that they know of can reach them.

A good part of this social group now makes up what we call the 'pueblos jóvenes' 'young towns' who emigrated from their own lands because geological phenomena pushed them to the cities in search of better opportunities to help them survive. Women come with their husbands, children, and even animals to invade unoccupied faraway lands and remake their precarious lives with the security that things will improve. They are all united by the same expectations and the harshness of their destiny, seemingly abandoned by the authorities. This is how they survive. In her desperate struggle to come out ahead, women's work is as self-sacrificing as men's or more.

The intelligence of these human groups is well-known. They are undaunted and show courage, and even audacity to fight for their place in the invaded areas or in the locations where they have settled in order to become temporary traders, a profession that is unknown to them in their provinces, except during the fairs when in some festivities, they offer their meager products in exchange for what they need.

And in this drama, women play a spontaneous role as worker and defender of her rights. A dark sense of survival sharpen intelligence and the impression awakened in the Lima population is well-known because of the assuredness with which she assumes her role, not of a recent arrival but a veteran of these times of crisis. This confirms the race's abilities, its sense of dignity when it is not subjugated but can behave freely, even if it is in difficult conditions of her new standard of living.

The marginal neighbourhoods, the belt of misery that surrounds Lima and that has already stretched past its limits, introducing itself into the capital city, signify an inability to withstand the overwhelming provincial misery, punished by nature's events and the authorities' laziness for not foreseeing these calamities, until they are obliged to emigrate in search of less inhumane living conditions.

These women, who have already make contact with the people of Lima, easily how much is offered to their curiosity and worries, and many of them are being instructed about matters that concern them with respect to their rights as human beings and the place that they should occupy within society.

FLORA TRISTAN'S FEMINISM

It is not just in "Women's Freedom or the Pariah's Statement" published after her death that Flora demonstrates her profound feminist calling but in all of her career as a social fighter and especially in her book "Worker's Union" in which she remarks that the cited international organization should be based on a constituency of 'male and female workers' since she never excludes women from those expressed by her nominated in whose context "should appear only those workers who do not have any property of their own, only their arms" including women workers to those whom she considers as the other half of the force involved in the WORKERS UNION.

Researching the roots of her feminism, her biographers concluded that it is found in her own marital experience, when she endured the hard condition of knowing what it is like to be a diminished being, without rights, who is ordered about and told what to do by her despotic husband and from whom she suffers humiliation, beatings, and slanderous insults. Her experience is also found in her contact with the working women of France and England, where women's work is undervalued and badly paid, and also, from her knowledge in Peru of the discriminatory treatment given to Peruvian women based on their social class, or as slaves or as objects of pleasure.

Flora says: "The most oppressed man can oppress another human being, which is his wife. Women are the female proletarians of the same male working class". And she warns that the "Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen" does not include women's rights.

The laws that do not allow her to liberate herself from her husband authorize him to pursue her at any time, accuse her of being an adulteress, a tramp, a schemer, almost with impunity. Flora emphasizes that this situation for women is due to their ignorance.

She insists in the need to awaken her intelligence with education, as one of the weapons for her liberation.

Flora proposes replacing the Divorce Law and the free choice of spouse, without influence of any kind, defending the will of the bride and groom and without the intervention of economic interests.

She reports that the Church with its discriminatory doctrine considers women as the root of all evil, the cause of original sin. Therefore, she is kept excluded from rights within the Church and is not free to divulge it openly.

With astonishing intuition for her time, Flora discovers that men and women are exploited by the same exploiters, the bosses, who consider them to be inferior to them a situation that the workers have accepted and have believed it really because of their ignorance.

"I maintain that the freedom of the workers is impossible as long as women remain in a state of stultification ...

"I maintain that freedom for the workers is impossible as long as women remain in a suppressed state. That halts all progress" ... and later, "Workers, try to understand this well: the law that enslaves women and denies her education also oppresses you, the proletariat men."

Tristan also believed that the proletariat should organize itself as a "class", the working class. She showed how the ignorance of the working class allowed them to be fooled and confused by the bourgeoisie. They should not expect anything from the middle class as expressed by her words: "nor should you expect anything unless it comes from your own action ... It is up to you alone to act in the interest of your own cause ..." This announcement predated the Marxist postulate of: "The liberation of the workers will be the work of the workers themselves."

Flora petitioned: "The two requirements that should satisfy society are the recognition of: the right to work and the right to organize labour." She would never abandon this premise and remained faithful to it until the last moments of her life. In order to achieve these postulates, the first action was to unite all of the oppressed who were considered inferior, working men and women from all social classes. Said union should be recognized by Parliament where it would have a legal representative for all of the working class to monitor proceedings and demand the dictation of the laws that would meet their demands for justice. Flora watched the followers of Fourier and Owen because they never organized the working class into associations, which is the only thing that can guarantee against oppression and hunger. In union organization, the process itself lacked the strength needed to confirm her projections when she said that the working class only had its labour source, their arms, and the only guarantee of success in their struggle would be a workers union for both men and women. Tristan never ignored working women in her projections of a Workers Union since she saw them as a deciding factor in the liberation movement.

In Tristan's thesis and in the roots of the Worker's Union, her most recent biographies discover the idea of a political party for representation in Parliament that lacks claims to power-driven aspirations. Definitely, the Workers Union as Tristan projected it did not have union goals like those of guilds. Tristan's idea, which is clearer today, is a Workers Political Party since the Workers Union would include the implicit—and explicit—recognition of all of the proletariat's rights by society as a whole. This political goal included global and political tasks, not simply the defense of a guild. Flora admonished the workers on existing general work conditions and warned them that they would always continue to be workers because these are the conditions that capitalism imposes on them. This previously unexpressed thesis indicated the irreversibility of the condition of the working class condition. As such, the Workers Union is the only political strategy for obtaining substantial advantages through representation before Parliament and the oppressing groups.

Flora continued to broaden her criteria on those who dictated the laws, and confirmed that property owners and the ruling class that monopolized Parliament made the laws. As long as they were in power, they would deny entry to the oppressed classes. Thus Flora realized the State's roll in defending the interests of the dominant class. Her extraordinary social and political intuition allowed her to clearly see the importance of organizing for the members of the proletariat. Without organization, the Cartists struggles for the right to a universal vote lacked strength.

Flora pledged to convince women to join the proletariat in their struggle since it was the only alternative for their complete liberation. She also pledged to convince the proletariat that without women's liberation they would never achieve their goal of emancipation.

FLORA'S INTERNATIONALISM

From the first conception, Flora regards The WORKERS UNION as an international organism and stresses her un-discriminatory points of view regarding sex, nationality, religion or working class. The one condition to join the WORKERS UNION is to be a male or female worker, be fully dependent on their work and be penniless. She realizes that the working class has a historical mission to accomplish in society. She motivates it to be aware of their power and spurs it to pursue its responsibility. She incites them: "you, workers, de-facto victims of inequity and injustice, have to establish over this earth the kingdom of justice and absolute equity between men and women". To Flora, as well as latter to Marx, the proletariat has a historical mission to attain, as it constitutes itself into a social class that carries an implicit change in the economic structure. Flora is fully conscious that the bourgeoisie's function negates the capacity to build an ideal just society. The initial task is to build the WORKERS UNION able to encourage the proletariat to its emancipation.

There is an evident coincidence between Flora's train of thought, and several years later, Marx and Engels. The writer Dominique Desanti in her book "Flora Tristan la femme Revoltee" says that it is inarguable the knowledge that Marx and Engels have of the book "Promenades dans London", where Flora describes the miserable condition that the workers class, women and children work schedules of over twelve hours, subjected to slavery regimes without working conditions security. They were fired when the employers considered it convenient, sometimes due to sickness, or any other pretext throw them out on to the street and forcing them to become beggars, or thieves without any alternative.

London, the monster city, which is the way she calls it in her third edition of the book that carries the same name, is by that time, one of the capitals with the largest delinquent population, where misery and crime go hand by hand. By the same token, the bad habits proliferated among individuals of the high class and crime is frequent in the London area.

Flora forms her experiences in her visits forced by circumstances and although she is a young woman, she is observant and shrewd, gifted with the curiosity given by the observance of the suffering of the vulnerable, who live in the suburbs and marginal neighbourhoods, where she is taken by her instinctive feeling of solidarity.

The "Promenades dans London" arouses an unusual curiosity, in London as well as in Paris, due to the denouncement contained in this book, exposing the social organism of the world's powerful, for which the poor, the beggar, the ragged, only deserved a look of repulsion or disgust.

SOME OF FLORA'S INFLUENCES

In her most recent biographies, it is told that her ideas with respect to women, and to her social problems of inequity and oppression by men, started most likely by the readings that came to her curiosity. One of them was the Irish writer Mary Wollstonecraft's book: "Women's Rights Vindication" which she read in 1825, convalescent from her daughter Aline's birth. At this time the first discrepancies with her husband had blown up, and she had gone through her first separation.

She had already read Saint-Simon and Chateaubriand.

In her first absence from Paris, fleeing from her husband, Flora travels as the helper for a British family. She visits Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and England.

In 1829 she meets Prosper Enfantin, Saintsimonian and the Societary School. She reads the famous poet Marcela Desbordes-Valmore.

Her cultural baggage starts to grow without big pretenses. Her presence in the Parisian intellectual circles is always welcome, since her beauty and her youth crown her intelligence.

UTOPIANISM OF FLORA TRISTAN

She stoop up among the utopianisms of her time, Flora even don't identify with their postulates even though they stirred her sensibility and found positive aspects within them. Flora tries to interpret, analyze and study them. Her experience from the direct interaction with the workers lives, French as well as British, give her a different perspective. London, city that she visited several times and knows as well as her birthplace, give her a lesson on the brutal exploitation that the worker are victim of, disregarding their health or their most urgent needs. She learns consciously the way the women workers and their children are exploited; she discovers that when work is scarce, women suffer double discrimination, since they are either fired, or her pay will be dropped to less than half of men's, in spite of her production being the same or better. Many times they are forced into prostitution when they cannot find work in order to make ends meet. The Utopianism ideals don't contemplate the realities the workers, men, women and children; they are submerged in. Children suffer a cruel treatment without consideration to their age, lack of strength and are forced to labour twelve hour shifts like the rest of adults.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Flora Tristan, A Forerunner Woman by Magda Portal Copyright © 2012 by Magda Portal. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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