Youth Liberation, Not Paternalistic Child Credits
One thing we heard from those saddened by the police murder of 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant was that she didn’t get to have a childhood.(1) While nation is most certainly the primary factor that led to the cop, Nicholas Reardon, shooting Bryant, we think gender oppression, and in particular youth oppression, had a lot to do with Bryant ending up where she did on that fateful day.
When people speak of being able to have a childhood, we may think of a time of fun, carefree play, no work, no oppression, etc. Of course most people in the world don’t have much of a childhood in this sense. But in the United $tates many do. So already we see there is some hierarchy involved in this idea of having a childhood, at least under imperialism. We see this hierarchy as the realm of gender because it is a question of leisure time and not labor time, which is the subject of class (see Clarity on What Gender is). But there is also the question of why we must separate our lives into periods of fun and play and periods of work and oppression? And why do we have oppression at all? And how did work become a bad thing?
To answer these question briefly, the relations of production under capitalism are what alienates people from their labor today, so that they feel their labor time is not their time. But as “adults,” most must spend the majority of their waking hours in labor time. While some people want those like Bryant to have the purist, most care-free childhood as possible, we are working towards a whole life that is enjoyable and fulfilling. And we doubt that is possible without a healthy dose of productive labor. The exclusion of children from work for over 100 years in the United $tates has left them with no productive role to play in society, leading to alienation and lack of worth.(2) This alienation and lack of self-worth is reinforced by abuse, and leads to destructive behavior.
As Greyhound points out in eir article on Ma’Khia Bryant, the Soviet Union provided family for orphaned youth through the productive life of the commune. The communes did not work kids to the bone to squeeze out the maximum profits as the capitalists once did in the United $tates, and still do in most of the world. Below we look at some attempts by capitalist Amerika to provide for youth and why they cannot get at the source of youth oppression as well as socialist experiments that have.
Child Credits Pay the Patriarch
With sheltering-in-place during the pandemic and no in-persyn schooling for most children, the question of childcare has received much attention in the United $tates. The answer from the bourgeoisie came in the form of child credits. Amerikan families began receiving these payments in mid-July 2021, for a total of $3000-3600 per family over the next 6 months.
These credits are a market-based attempt to address the problem of adults in the nuclear family spending large sums of money to have their children cared for when they are working or otherwise occupied. These credits put more power in the hands of the adults who get the money over the lives of the children who qualify them for these payments. Money for those who struggle to make ends meet can certainly mean less stressful conditions for their children. The logic makes sense, it is just a backwards, half-ass approach. By the 1960s in socialist China, all children had guaranteed care that was collectively run and offered ways for youth to voice their concerns and avoid abusive situations. This was in a country where a decade or two earlier children were basically sold into slavery. This is the kind of radical change the youth need, that a profit-based system can’t provide.
Punishing Sex Offenders to Save the Family
It is very evident that affection, support and trust in our lives as young people have significant effects on our health throughout our lives.(3) Lack of positive social relationships and experiences has been linked to drug addiction and correlates strongly with imprisonment. Therefore this is a topic very dear to the hearts of many of our readers.
One way we see this manifest in a more reactionary politic of the imprisoned masses is in the strong, often violent attitudes towards sex offenders in prison culture. This sentiment exists outside prison of course, but became part of the prison culture because of the concentration of convicted sex offenders there. As we’ve addressed in the past, this reactionary politic is problematic on the one hand in that it is allowing the state to decide who our enemies are, that in many cases the actions that led to these cases are mild compared to many non-sex-offender charges and in some cases the people are completely innocent.(4) In the United $tates, white males and females, as a group, have treated the Black male as a sexual animal that must be controlled, sometimes by fake rape charges and imprisonment. In other words, some who are convicted as sex offenders are actually the victims of gender oppression, as well as national oppression.
A second reason we say the anti-sex offender politic is reactionary is that it doesn’t offer any real solutions to the problem of the sexual abuse of children. It is an example of why MIM always opposed the slogan “Think global, act local.” If you think globally about this problem of child abuse, and act locally by ostracizing or even attacking those you come in contact with who have (or who you believe have) abused children, you haven’t changed anything if the patriarchy remains. You can confirm this with crime statistics, or just the fact that we live in a society where we know this problem is still prevalent.
Addressing child abuse requires systemic change as the Chinese instituted during their experiment in socialism. Young people need a different system that supports them with things we know people need to grow up healthy; mentally and physically. These things can not be offered on conditions or the whims of one or two adults who control the child’s life. As they say, “it takes a village to raise a child.” And people who are serious about reducing child abuse need to work to build those villages and build them in ways that give young people full access to information, a wide variety of adult support people, including those in power, and access to other youth without the interference of adults. The village should also give repercussions to youth for “bad behavior.” These repercussions should be consistent in order to provide the youth with social guidance and never be used by individual adults to get what they want from children or to take out their frustrations from a bad day. The oversight of a more village-based model must prevent adults from doing such things.
What the bourgeoisie offers in place of the village is more cash to the patriarch. These cash incentives make single-parent homes more viable. But single-parent homes are some of the easiest places for adults to molest and abuse children.
The reactionary approach to child abuse (imprisonment and violence) also reinforces the patriarchy, where strong adult men must protect youth from other adult men by physical assault. One critique of this line points out how it views the rights of children the same as the rights of animals in that they must be granted and enforced from the outside.
“pseudo feminists… [accept a] zoological implication that child abuse is going to go on forever, as if… child abuse were inherent in the humyn species, and at the same time external to humyn social relations, like animals.”(5)
The Maoist counter-point then is that child abuse is a humyn relationship that is found within the patriarchal family structure. It is part of the central problem of oppression of groups of people by other groups that we aim to resolve through ongoing revolutionary struggle under the dictatorship of the proletariat. Rather than punishing sex offenders to save the family and “protect our children”, we must replace the nuclear family with communal child-rearing, and empower young people to criticize others in order to stop those who might try to abuse children.
Putting child care in the public sphere will do a lot to undermine the conditions of child abuse. But it does not eliminate the biases of the adult population, especially those that grew up in the old capitalist ways, from miseducating or mistreating youth as a group. And we know that institutional living like group homes and prisons, where many adults are involved in “care” for the youth, are rife with abuse. For these reasons youth must have ways of coming together as a group and voicing their interests as a group, even enforcing their interests as a group in contradiction to the adults that they depend on. l Ruth Sidel produced an in-depth report on Women and Childcare in China as well as in the Soviet Union and the kibbutz in I$rael. In one Chinese school, when asked what you’d do if you found a sick child on the street, a 6-year-old child responded: “i’d bring them medicine and water.” Sidel was surprised the child would not find an authority figure first.(6) What a striking difference in world views between socialist children and how most of us grew up in this country. These children still spent most of their days singing and playing and doing things that we all did in school. Yet, they were taught differently, taught to act and be self-empowered as soon as they were able to physically complete the tasks that might be demanded of them, like bringing another child water, or possibly organizing resistance to an abusive adult.
Some reading this will find the youth helping other youth not so strange because they raised their siblings at a young age. This is another way that peoples’ “childhoods are lost” in our culture; having to take care of other children as a child. It is not that care for those younger than you is inappropriate to carry out as a child, but that you need the support of a community to do so in a way that is not oppressive to your own life and most supportive to those you help care for.
According to the story from Ma’Khia Bryant’s grandmother, the conflict that had occurred among two groups of foster children was over perceived disrespect to the foster mother due to the lack of chores getting done. Most likely the situation was more complicated. But we see how there can be a disagreement over the labor responsibilities of members of a family that leads to violent conflict. This would be very unlikely when people have clear responsibilities, clear and consistent consequences that are enforced by the group for not meeting those responsibilities, and ways to communicate up front with both adults and youth about the roles and treatment of others.
The Roles of Youth in Society
In discussing Ma’khia Bryant’s childhood, we must address the fact that she was 16 years old when she was murdered by a cop because of this conflict. Other 16-year-olds in the area could have banded together to take revenge on Reardon for shooting her. Most members of the Black Panther Party joined in their teens. Bobby Hutton was murdered by the pigs emself at age 17 while on an armed patrol of the police. Sixteen is much more physically developed than six, and would mostly only be limited by legal restrictions like being able to drive or purchase fire arms.
Fifteen was the age when members of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia - Ejército del Pueblo(FARC-EP) could engage in armed actions.(7) As the struggle of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front(EPLF) advanced, they established the Fitewerari to train male youth 14 to 16 years old and females of all ages. They found that training the adult females separate from adult males helped in both groups overcoming the traditional gender roles they had been inculcated with. The youth did not have these challenges, at least not to the same degree.
“In addition to literacy education, political and military training, and running their daily affairs, they participate in production, adhering to the EPLF’s correct revolutionary principle of ‘integrating education with production.’ They practice criticism and self-criticism to rectify mistakes, develop work and strengthen comradely solidarity. Upon finishing training, they are assigned to the different EPLF units and departments to carry on the struggle on all fronts.”(8)
Much has been put into the idea that a humyn’s prefrontal cortex is growing rapidly up until about age 25. The implication being that you can’t quite trust the judgement of those under 25. But this is only one data point, of a biological phenomenon we still barely understand. And along with this data point comes some implications in how younger people are willing to go against the status quo and can change their ways faster. We look to history, to see the transformative power of youth movements, rather than follow current trends in biological determinism based in preliminary studies of the brain.
Towards a World Without Oppression
When Maoists talk about gender, we are talking about a system of power in the realm of leisure time; the patriarchy. In that system, youth are generally part of the gender-oppressed. Though in the imperialist countries, they are likely part of a gender aristocracy, a child aristocracy, particularly those who have access to the idealized carefree childhood.
Similar to the wimmin in bourgeois society, the bourgeois children are relegated outside of labor and exclusively to leisure time. This leisure time is meanwhile structured to serve the pleasure of the man and the interests of capitalism overall. These groups being relegated to leisure time reinforces the divide between leisure time and labor time in society mentioned above. This is one reason why it is hard to imagine undoing gender hierarchy without first undoing capitalism, which would eliminate the sharp divide between labor time and leisure time. Through this process, gender will cease to be so separate from class struggle as it is in the bourgeoisified First World countries. Then our lives as individuals will be more complete, as will our communities.
Youth liberation is part of and dependent on the struggle to end capitalism and imperialism. Youth don’t need more paternalism, they need a supportive village to learn from and the freedom to self-actualize themselves without the fetters of oppression that shape our lives today.
Notes: 1. Greyhound, July 2021, Ma’Khia Bryant: A Murder of An Oppressed Nation Youth Demands Real Solutions, Under Lock & Key 74.
2. Nadine Burke Harris, 2018, The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-term effects of Childhood Adversity, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
3. MCB52, The Oppression of Children Under Patriarchy, MIM Theory 9: Psychology and Imperialism, 1995, p.17.
4. A Nevada Prisoner, December 2016, Sex Offenders Reconsidered, Under Lock & Key 55.
5. Is Calvin Human? and other annoying questions: “Calvin and Hobbes,” zoology, and the oppression of children by patriarchy, Maoist Information Website, April 2009.
6. Ruth Sidel, Women and Childcare in China, Penguin Books, 1982, p.135.
7. Maria Paula Rubiano, 13 July 2021, How to Feed 10,000 Rebel Fighters for 50 years, Atlas Obscura.
8. Selected Articles from “Vanguard: Official Monthly Organ of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front”, Association of Eritrean Students in North America, October 1977, p.12.