Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The women’s question

First Published: In Struggle! No. 288, June 22, 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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One of the major debates at the Congress was on the women’s question. This was no surprise to IN STRUGGLE! members and probationers because for the past year this question has, in fact. been present in the whole of the organization’s work.

While IN STRUGGLE!’s position between 1975 and 1980 considered that feminism was incompatible and even an enemy to Marxism, the position of many IN STRUGGLE! members evolved towards a rapprochement with the feminist theses: a recognition of autonomous women’s organizations; the need to struggle against chauvinism, and against patriarchy; the importance for women to struggle to control their own bodies, etc.

An attempt to reconcile certain ideas put forward by the feminist movement with the basic theses of Marxism was one of the stakes at the 4th Congress. The resolution printed here, the only one presented to the Congress, was an attempt at this; it was rejected by two distinct votes, first by the women (74 against, 29 for and 14 abstentions) and then by all IN STRUGGLE! militants (men and women) 147 against, 90 for and 30 abstentions).

The resolution

All participants, men and women, at the 4th Congress of IN STRUGGLE! agreed on one thing: the programme adopted at the third Congress did not take women’s condition into account in its criticism of capitalist society. As a matter of fact, it stayed silent on the whole question.

For those who proposed and defended the resolution “Women and the stand IN STRUGGLE! should adopt at the 4th Congress”, this resolution corrected the major part of IN STRUGGLE!’s orientation on the women’s question. First, the resolution recognized present society as a capitalist and patriarchal society, “We will not be able to analyze women’s situation in this kind of system unless we see that production and reproduction (including social relations, labour power, child-birth and child-rearing) are interconnected and the material basis of our society and its organisation”. In this respect, the resolution called for a specific struggle against chauvinism.

The resolution also specified that if women’s oppression cuts across class lines, the class factor remains fundamental in the determination of women’s work. “These differences mean that all women arc not oppressed or exploited equally.” Finally, on the path and strategy for women’s liberation, the resolution put the struggle for socialism forward, “The struggle for women’s complete emancipation depends on the struggle for socialism, but is not subordiante to it.” This struggle for socialism will triumph through the united struggle of men and women from the working class. In this respect, the struggles of women of the working class are amongst the most important to advance the women’s question. To fight women’s oppression under socialism, the resolution puts forward that beyond special measures to combat patriarchy, there should be “socialization of domestic labour, women’s full participation in the labour force and an end to sexual discrimination in both cases.”

For those who defended the resolution, they maintained it would permit an introduction of an analysis of the women’s question, of patriarchy, of the specific recognition of women’s struggles while keeping the theses of Marxism, i.e. the struggle for socialism remains essential, and the working class remains the leading class in the revolution.

The opposition

There were two currents in the opposition to the resolution.

The first recognized that there was progress in the resolution but were not satisfied with the links proposed between Marxism and feminism. The second current rejected the resolution because it considered that Marxism and feminism could not be reconciled.

Here are some of the speakers and the questions they brought up during the discussions:

– “This resolution is an improved Marxist analysis of women’s oppression, but it isn’t the feminist analysis that’s need. Patriarchy is not just a part of the capitalist system, it is a social system itself, a system of power and exploitation over women. It exists alongside of capitalism, it reinforces it and is reinforced by it.”

– Is the question of class criteria women’s struggle so fundamental? “The resolution is an attempt to reconcile class and sex, but we are many who don’t agree with the result. There is a mechanical application of the ’vanguard’ role of the proletariat throughout the resolution. It comes from Article 6 of the resolution where a new definition of the working class is given: ’those who sell their labour power as well as those who are dependant on the sale of labour power.’ With this definition the petty bourgeoisie is eliminated and all that is left is proletarian women and bourgeois women with whom we can surely forge alliances, but who will never defend the interests of all women. Thus the resolution finally does away with the whole question of petty-bourgeois women and their role and the question of all women as an oppressed social strata and thus as a social force for change.”

– The resolution talks about the predominant role of the working class: have women of the working class shown that they played a vanguard role on this question in the past?

– Has the women’s struggle really progressed in socialist countries? “Until now the communist vision has never challenged patriarchy. We have to talk about more than socialist revolution. We have to make a revolution against capitalism and a revolution against patriarchy. Our vision must be a socialist-feminist society. Throughout the resolution the struggle against patriarchy is seen as part of the struggle for socialism rather than something valuable and important in itself. It is not essentially different from our old-view of politics and women’s oppression.”

– The resolution says nothing on the importance of autonomous women’s organizations before and after the revolution. Isn’t this more important than “socialisation of domestic work”, etc.?

– It is difficult for me to vote against this resolution, but I must as a feminist and a woman. It just doesn’t touch me as a woman. In the past I always thought the feminist slogan “reclaim our power” was just that, a slogan. But no longer. I have and am “reclaiming my power”. Neither Marxism nor this new Marxist analysis has contributed to my becoming strong as is woman.

Finally, during the debate, a call was made by about thirty women to organize an autonomous women’s collective, We reproduce a call titled “Autonomy must be learned, autonomy must be taken” in the second part of this newspaper.