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Marxism and Feminism

Revolutionary communists start from the view that working class women are the central agency in the struggle against their own oppression, aided at every step by class-conscious working class men. As Lenin wrote:

“We say that the emancipation of the workers must be effected by the workers themselves, and in exactly the same way the emancipation of working women is a matter for the working women themselves.”

If all women are oppressed, they are not all equally oppressed and not all women have the same degree of power to end their oppression. Women, like men, are divided into classes. The women of the ruling class offload most of their oppression onto their working class “sisters” and their privileges will always tie them to defending their class before their sex.

Lower middle class and professional women suffer more oppression and have a long history of struggle: the history of feminism. Many of the issues feminists raise are very important: violence against women, sexist ideology in culture and education, the hypocrisies of male chauvinism and religious morality.

But their solution, an all-class women’s movement seeking solutions within capitalism, mean that they cannot get to the roots of the problem: the bourgeois family and capitalist production, on which this family rests and for which it reproduces the workers’ capacity to work and brings up a new generation of workers (i.e. housework and childcare).

Working class women partly escape from the isolation of the family home through wage labour, where they join unions, a gateway to social and political life in general. Of course, the burden of domestic labour still weighs heavily on them and in the unions they still encounter sexism and discrimination, but they are no longer atomised.

For this reason Marxists set as their goal the socialisation of domestic labour and childcare as reforms today. But to fully achieve this will require an economy, democratically planned by everyone, so we can ensure men play an equal role in both spheres and involve the young themselves as a part of their education, paving the way for real social equality.

To fight for this perspective we need not only a revolutionary party and trade unions but a socialist working class women’s movement to take up the whole spectrum of women’s oppression: domestic violence and rape, discrimination at work, abortion and contraception, inequalities in pay, inadequate childcare and healthcare, sexist culture. In short, a modern day Zhenotdel.

Another vital weapon in the struggle against sexism is the right of women to organise among themselves in workplaces, unions and parties. This right to caucus should be guaranteed. It is not, as some argue, an instrument of division but of unity at a higher level: unity against sexism and capitalism.

A socialist women’s movement would draw in women in unions and housing estates, schools and colleges, uniting them in a common struggle. They must have democracy and autonomy, with the right to elect their own leaders, not subject to dictation by any party. However, a genuine revolutionary party would openly intervene into such a movement, hoping to win the majority to its course of action, and more and more women into its ranks.

The common goal of socialism and women’s liberation indicates why the latter is a struggle for men as well as women. But as long as women remain oppressed, they have the right and the duty to organise themselves. Socialists cannot say to women that their liberation must “wait for socialism” or that it will only be a by-product of the economic and political class struggle. On the contrary, it is a vital and integral part of it.

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