Identity & oppression

marxism poster women 1 Image public domainFor Marxists, the fight against oppression goes hand in hand with the class struggle. While we recognise that different groups in society suffer different forms of oppression, we affirm that this oppression is rooted in the class system itself. Racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are deeply ingrained in capitalist society. However, the Marxist method of historical materialism allows us to trace the roots of these ideas, looking at how they’ve evolved historically and the role they play in society today.

No form of oppression is built into our DNA, nor naturally ordained. The systematic attack against specific groups was not possible before the emergence of the state and class society. As it developed, these ideas have helped uphold the position of the ruling class. In modern society, segregation, violence against women and disenfranchisement are all examples of ways to keep the working class divided, downtrodden and less able to organise against its common exploiter – the capitalist class. 

In Lenin’s book, What is to be Done? he explains how uniting struggles is not the same as merging them all into each other. It is precisely this approach that we take in the fight against oppression. Using class methods, we seek to strike these forms of discrimination at their core. By pitting us against one another, the ruling class creates the idea that an individual worker can benefit from the oppression of another. This is a lie. All means of discrimination serve to put a constant downward pressure on conditions and quality of life for the working class, creating a race to the bottom. The only way to fight against this is to unite the workers of all nations, races, genders and sexualities along class lines. This is how we will ensure the full liberation of all of humanity.

Every year on 8th March, International Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world. Most people are not aware of the fact that on 8th March 1917, it was actually women who started the events that led to the Russian Revolution.

We have witnessed a colossal increase in women's struggles, with mobilizations in defense of gender equality growing larger in recent years. Every 8 March, International Women’s Day, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, go out into the streets to resist inequality.

We publish here a series of essential texts on the subject of women and the Russian Revolution by the likes of Lenin, Trotsky and leading female Bolsheviks like Krupskaya and Kollontai.

In recent years the struggle against gender oppression and sexual orientation-based discrimination has developed into mass movements in many countries. We have seen large-scale protests expressing anger and rebellion – that had been building up for years and decades – against an exasperating interference of a system that not only forces you to struggle daily to make ends meet, but also claims the right to decide what you can or cannot do in your private lives, who you can have a relationship with, sexual or otherwise, whether you can raise a child, etc., and subjects anyone who departs from the norms of the so-called “traditional family” to a social and legal ghetto.

The crisis of capitalism has given rise to a mood of questioning and mass movements across the world. From the Spanish Indignados, to the Syntagma Square in Greece, and more recently the Nuit Debout in France, youth are starting to take action and challenge the capitalist system. As part of this general mood, recent years have also seen a number of spontaneous movements erupt against the multiple forms of oppression that different layers of the working class experience under capitalism.

International Working Women's Day demonstration.

Working women have been struggling for complete equality in the workplace for over a century. In fact, a common thread running through many countries throughout the 20th Century was the struggle for “equal pay for work of equal value”, which meant irrespective of gender a worker should receive the same wage for the same kind of work. We are still not there, and with the onset of the crisis in 2008 things have begun to get worse.

Ylva Vinberg, editor of the Swedish Marxist Journal, Revolution, speaks on the attitude of Marxists towards Feminism.

Two women munitions workers stand beside examples of the shells produced at National Shell Filling Factory No.6, Chillwell, Nottinghamshire during the First World War. Nicholls Horace © IWM (Q 30017)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the media is dedicating much time and attention to it. However, one aspect which so far has not received sufficient consideration is the role played by women during those dramatic and bloody years.

Demonstration of Front de Gauche, May 2013. Photo: Philippe Leroyer

What are the origins of women's oppression? And how do we fight it? These are vital questions to ask in a society where working class women are twice oppressed - both as workers and as women.

Women in the Paris Commune.

“We have come to the supreme moment, when we must be able to die for our Nation. No more weakness! No more uncertainty! All women to arms! All women to duty! Versailles must be wiped out!” These were the words of Nathalie Lemel, participant in the Paris Commune of 1871, and member of the Union des Femmes pour la Defense de Paris et les Soins aux Blesses (The Union of Women for the Defense of Paris and Aid to the Wounded).

One hundred years ago today, 99 women from 17 different countries attended the Socialist Women's Conference held in Copenhagen in the House of the People. In this article, we look at the origins of Women's Day, the origin of women's oppression in class society, and how capitalism has laid the material foundations upon which the question of women's emancipation can be tackled. Experience shows that once women start to organise in the workplace and fight for their rights, this cuts across divisions, unites men and women workers and strengthens both the position of women and the working class as a whole. The emancipation of women is an integral part of the struggle of the working class for

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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.

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.

"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.

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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