First Published: Revolution No. 4, April 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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“Combat Women’s Oppression: Mobilise Women for the Socialist Revolution” is the line of the National Committee, CFB (M-L) on the oppression of women under capitalism and the path to their emancipation. It is a strong and militant line, upholding the fundamental truths of Marxism-Leninism on this question, and drawing a clear line of demarcation between Marxism-Leninism, and feminism and reformism.
This line is a public refutation of the many erroneous statements made by the CFB (ML) or by individual members over the years the dominant attitude in the CFB (ML) on the question of women’s emancipation, until the struggle for this line broke out, was one of bourgeois feminism. The ideological roots of this lay in the main bourgeois ideological errors running through the work of the CFB (M-L) at that time.
Such errors were bound to thrive as long as the CFB (M-L) retained a ’federal’ approach to Party building. Revolution 2 firmly declared “the federal road is an opportunist road”.
Liberalism and empiricism in past practice led to the situation in which struggling for a correct line was reduced to merely exchanging experiences; only those with direct experience felt able to contribute. On the question of women, this inevitably meant relying on the women comrades to do all the work. The organisation fell into separatism.
Because of the absence of bold proletarian leadership, the local groups carried on their work independently of central leadership and in isolation from the other local groups. The work of the local groups was dominated by the ultra-democracy of small circles. The cadres engaged, in Broad Front work on “women were also influenced by the ultra-democracy of the “Women’s Movement”. In the “Women’s Movement” the main emphasis is on the unconditional equality and unity of women as women and rejection of discipline and organisational principles, which are characterised as ’masculine’. This spurious ’equality’ and organisational anarchy made it impossible for the cadres to sum up the work clearly, as well as encouraging their own tendencies towards ultra-democracy and spontaneous.
The CFB (ML) was composed mainly of revolutionary intellectuals, who brought many of the characteristic ways of thinking of the Intelligentsia into the organisation with them. This range of errors has been called intellectualism in, the CFB (M-L). One form of this error was the arrogance of he intellectuals which makes them think they are ’the supreme power of the world order’ (Hoxha. Selected Works. Vol 2.P728). The CFB (M-L) time and again, failed to study the policies and writings of the great Marxist-Leninists” tried and tested through the decades of revolutionary struggle; instead it tried to be self-sufficient and do all the work itself. The temptation to fall into this way of thinking on the question of women was particularly strong, since the historic position of the lnternational Communist Movement bore little or no resemblance to the subjectivist view of women’s emancipation prevalent then.
Hoxha says of the intellectual: “His position between the classes makes him think that he is not prompted by any class interests... He thinks he stands above the classes, and represents a morality independent of the economic forces and class antagonism.” (Selected Works. Vol 2. p728). This was precisely the standpoint from which many comrades analysed women’s emancipation; It was, for them, primarily a question of abstract morality, of comradely attitudes, of treating women as equals; it was hardly ever a question of transforming the relations of production, of raising demands that helped women involve in production and political activity. It is true that the necessity of these things was never denied, but the emphasis was placed overwhelmingly on secondary – and, at times, trivial –aspects of women’s oppression.
Instead of examining and learning from objectively existing class struggle and setting the struggle for women’s emancipation in that context, the CFB(M-L) adopted various radical ’solutions’ and attitudes, which were in reality irrelevant to the struggles of the working class; they, in fact, drew a line of distinction between the CFB(M-L) and the working c1ass. The CPB (M-L) was more concerned with the personal and emotional development of its members than with the double oppression of working class women; objectively, it fell into intellectualist self-cultivation, and denied the class content of women’s oppression.
There are two basic questions we must be clear on – a) the importance of this question to the proletarian revolution, b) the relationship between the struggle for women’s emancipation and the class struggle in general.
Women’s emancipation is a vitally important question for the working class, because the militant unity of all sections of the working class, fighting side by side, is essential to the success of the proletarian revolution. Bourgeois propaganda on women is spread far and wide; it seeks to undermine and destroy the unity of men and women. Bourgeois feminist propaganda claims that men are the reason for women being oppressed; it consciously seeks to divide men and women. Feminists attack the family by claiming that it, too, oppresses women; their only solution women’s oppression is to abolish the family. Women are not oppressed by the family in itself but within the family as it exists at present – that is the family under capitalism. Feminism is blind to the other aspect of the working class family under capitalism. For many working class men and women, their family life is the only part of their life to give them comfort, mutual support and affection. Under socialism, when women are no longer oppressed, this aspect of the family will be the dominant one.
The revolutionary struggle in Britain will inevitably contain many twists and turns; the ranks of the proletariat will remain strong through all difficulties as long as the class is united. For the working class, contradictions between men and women, black and white, young and old, etc, are non-antagonistic contradictions among the people. They can be resolved through discussion and education, because there is the strategic unity of class interest.
The proletarian line on women’s emancipation will maintain and deepen ’the unity of men and women, will train large numbers of working women to fight alongside men, will educate men and women to have a correct attitude to problems arising; and will help working women to begin to break the shackles that centuries of oppression has bound them with.
What then, is the relationship of the struggle for women’s emancipation to the class struggle? It is the relationship of a part to the, whole. Working class women in advanced capitalist countries are ”the most oppressed among the Oppressed’. (Stalin. Woman Question. p44). Their common oppression and exploitation which they share with working class men will be ended, only by the revolutionary overthrow of capital. Their particular oppression as women, which is inevitable under capitalism, can have a crippling and demoralising effect. To ignore this, and to fail to give leadership to the particular problems of women, will lead to failure to mobilise their enthusiasm and abilities for the class struggle. Under capitalism, Communists must struggle to make it easier for women to involve in social production. This means demanding better job opportunities, training facilities, adequate nursery and creche facilities, equal pay and so on. Women who work are more directly aware of the bitterness of class oppression and exploitation. They will also see that, although as individuals they are weak, collectively and in united action they can be strong.
Communists must also understand the effects of the ideological oppression of women; they can learn to give leadership to women in ridding themselves the passive attitudes instilled in them by bourgeois society.
The struggle for women’s emancipation is an integral part of the class struggle. The contradiction between the two -between the part and the whole is the means of propelling both aspects forward. “Contradictoriness within a thing is the fundamental cause of its development”. (Mao. Quotations. p213).
It is a commonly held opinion in the petty-bourgeois “Women’s Movement” that Marxism-Leninism has no analysis of women’s oppression and their emancipation. The bourgeois feminist, Selma James, speaks with the voice of the ’Movement’ when she says “The ’left’ analysis of class has left us (women) out completely”. This assertion is totally without basis. From the very beginnings of Marxism, the great teachers and leaders have put forward a clear analysis of the position of women in society and have given bold leadership on the struggle for their emancipation. What they have failed to do – and this is what upsets the feminists – is to look at the question of women as an independent phenomenon, free from the influence of social and economic developments and the class struggle. Engels in “Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State” gives a thoroughly historical materialist account of the origins of women’s oppression, and the particular forms it has taken in particular stages of the development of society. He shows how women’s oppression, coincided with the beginnings of class oppression. The feminists claim that the division of labour along sexual lines in primitive society was oppressive in itself. But Engels shows that under primitive communism there was a sexual division of labour which was not oppressive, since there was no ruling elite which was in a position to oppress.
All the great Marxist-Leninists since Engels have defended his correct analysis, and have used it to guide their strategy and tactics in their own particular conditions of struggle. The great socialist countries of China and Albania have proved in practice the correctness of this analysis. In less than 30 years of socialism, the position of women in these countries has been elevated from that of a semi-slave to that of being able to take a great part in political life and socialist construction, alongside men.
Mao says “Unite” and take part in production and political activity to improve the economic and political status of women”. (Quotations. p296). This gives communists a very clear orientation for the struggle for women’s emancipation. Firstly, there must be the unity of the working class. Without that, nothing will be achieved. Secondly, women should take part in production. As well as improving their economic situation, this gives women direct experience of collective work and mutual help; it also gives them direct experience of the worker’s exploitation and oppression at work. Thirdly, women should take part in political activity, to change the relations of production, and overthrow the class which is oppressing them. Although the material conditions for these three steps are only fully available to all under the dictatorship of the proletariat, the struggle starts under capitalism. Communists must give leadership to that struggle.
The history of class struggle teaches us to be optimistic about the role women will be mobilised to play. Stalin (Woman Question. p44), sums this up in an excellent manner:
“Not a single great movement of the oppressed in the history of mankind has been able to do without the participation of working women. Working women, the most oppressed among the oppressed, never have or could stand aside from the broad path of the liberation movement. This movement of slaves has produced, as is well know, hundreds and thousands of martyrs and heroines. Tens of thousands of working women were to be found in the ranks of the fighters for the liberation of the serfs. It is not surprising that millions of working women have been drawn in beneath the banners of the revolutionary movement of the working class, the most powerful of all liberation movements of the oppressed masses.