Struggle for Women's Emancipation

marxism poster women 1 Image public domainA growing feeling of alienation, injustice and oppression is feeding a general movement of rebellion among women against the existing state of affairs. The awakening of millions of women, especially the younger generation who feel a burning indignation about the discrimination, oppression and humiliation to which they are subjected under an unjust system is a profoundly progressive and revolutionary phenomenon that we should celebrate and support with the utmost enthusiasm.

It goes without saying that Marxists stand one hundred percent in favour of the complete emancipation of women. There cannot be the slightest hesitation, ambiguity or doubt about this. We must fight against the oppression of women at all levels, not just in words but in deeds. Under no circumstances can we allow the impression that this is somehow a secondary issue that can be subsumed under the general category of the class struggle. It would be fatal for the cause of Marxism if women believed that Marxists are prepared to postpone the struggle for their rights until after the victory of socialism. That is entirely false and a vicious caricature of revolutionary Marxism.

While it is true that the complete emancipation of women (and men) can only be achieved in a classless society, it is equally true that such a society can only be achieved through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. Women cannot be expected to put to one side their immediate, pressing demands and await the arrival of socialism. The victory of the Socialist revolution is unthinkable without the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism.

– From Marxism vs Identity Politics

Lis Mandl spoke at the IMT Winter School on the subject of "Women and Revolution". She looks at how the recent financial crisis has affected working women and how the women’s question is inseparable from the struggle of the working class as a whole.

Rosa Luxemburg

Lis Mandl looks at how Rosa Luxemburg considered the women’s question as inseparable from the struggle of the working class as a whole. She also looks at how the struggle for women’s rights was also a struggle against the reformists within the movement who constantly tried to limit demands for full women’s emancipation.

Tomorrow is International Women's Day. Although governments and political parties around the world pay lip service to women's liberation, the liberation of women remains elusive. Barbara Humphries, long-term labour movement activist and Marxist, spoke on Wednesday evening at the ULU Marxist Society in London on the origins of International Women's Day, the necessity for capitalism to divide society on the basis of sex and how the emergence of class society made women second-class citizens.

The liberation of women and the socialist revolution are inseperable tasks requiring the active participation of women workers in the organised labour movement. This recording of Barbara Humphries speaking at the Socialist Appeal xmas day school explains the double expoitation of women under the capitalist system, the history of women in the labour movement, the impact of imperialist aggression on women and the nature of feminism and positive discrimination.

Mainstream feminism has attempted to reduce March 8th to a vague and depoliticised celebrationof the female sex as a homogenous group, but to socialists and working class women the world over, it is a day for mobilizing, a day of class struggle. It was in fact first launched by Clara Zetkin at the second International Conference of Women Socialists, held in Copenhagen in 1910, with the aim of mobilizing women for the struggle against bourgeois domination.

Today, March 8, is International Working Women's Day. To celebrate this important day we are publishing an article on women and the Russian Revolution. It shows how that single event did more for women than any other struggle that had come before it and indeed after as well. First published (July 18, 2002) in issue Number 5 of 'In difesa del marxismo', the theoretical magazine of the Italian Marxist journal FalceMartello.

Tomorrow, March 8, is International Working Women’s Day, and to mark this important event we are publishing this article. It was first printed in issue Number 5 of ‘In difesa del marxismo’, the theoretical magazine of the Italian Marxist journal FalceMartello. Although originally written for an Italian audience we believe it is of interest to labour movement activists and youth around the world.

Women now form over 50% of the workforce in this country. One in five households are headed by a female breadwinner and the majority of women can expect to take up paid employment at some stage in their life. Employment is also widespread amongst women with young children. These are world-wide phenomena. In the United States 99% of women will at some stage form part of the workforce. The same trend is occurring in the developing world. The two income household is now firmly established.

"Still waiting after all these years" - these words (with apologies to Paul Simon) could easily apply to the search for equal pay for women.

While middle class feminists regard the oppression of women as an inherent biological trait of men, Marxism explains that the root of women's oppression lies not in biology, but in social conditions. Marxism sees the liberation of working class women as a part of the struggle for the liberation of the working class as a whole. While feminists set women against men, the socialist movement attempts to forge solidarity between male and female workers in a common struggle against capitalist exploitation.

For Marxists, the root cause of all forms of oppression consists in the division of society into classes. But oppression can take many forms. Alongside class oppression we find the oppression of one nation over another, racial oppression, and the oppression of women.

This month in our Women's section we are publishing an article on the history of the struggle of women to win the right to vote. Barbara Humphries looks at this history and how it relates to the development of the class struggle.

Women have traditionally been regarded as a backward layer of society and a bulwark of the Church and reaction. This "backward" character, however, is not something innate to women, as the bourgeoisie would like us to believe. The explanation for this is not to be found in any biological differences, but in the double exploitation that women suffer under capitalism. As Bebel succinctly put it, "The female sex suffers doubly: on the one hand suffering under the social dependence on men... and on the other hand, through the economic dependence to which they are all subject, as women in general, and as proletarian women in particular; in the same way as proletarian men." (A. Bebel, Women

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In his book Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World, Gorbachev claims that women in the Soviet Union have "the same right to work as men, equal pay…every opportunity to get an education, to have a career and to participate in social and political activities." The reality, however, is different. Seventy years after the revolution, despite legal equality, the Soviet Union still cannot justifiably claim the liberation of women.

The life of Sylvia Pankhurst is rich in experience for all activists in the labour movement. The names of the Pankhurst family are synonymous with the struggle to win the vote for women, but what distinguished Sylvia Pankhurst's approach from that of her mother Emmeline and her sister Christabel were class issues. It resulted in the 1920s, after nearly twenty years of struggle, with Emmeline standing as Tory Parliamentary candidate and Sylvia becoming a founder member of the British Communist Party. The seeds of such a divide were there from the early days of the suffragette organisation.

"The revolutionary power gave women the right to abortion, which in conditions of want and family distress, whatever may be said upon this subject by the eunuchs and old maids of both sexes, is one of her most important civil, political and cultural rights"

"If one understands by “family” a compulsory union based on marriage contract, the blessing of the church, property rights, and the single passport, then Bolshevism has destroyed this policed family from the roots up."

"But the spell is broken. In the book of life
We will write the story of your victory.
March boldly, woman worker. Let your path
Be light with the torch of liberty."

We are publishing a short work of Clara Zetkin which she wrote on the basis of her conversations with Lenin on the women's question. It was first published in 1925. Zetkin explains that Comrade Lenin frequently spoke to her about the women's question. Social equality for women was, of course, a principle needing no discussion for communists. It was in Lenin's large study in the Kremlin in the autumn of 1920 that she had her first long conversation with Lenin on the subject.