First Published: Proletarian Unity No. 26, March/May 1982
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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The following article is based on a presentation made by IN STRUGGLE!’s National Womens Committee to a Central Committee meeting in January 1982. It represents an initial critique of the Programme. Schematic as it may be, it should still give you an idea of what is meant by seeing things from a Marxist feminist perspective.
1. Throughout the Programme there is no mention of the question of reproduction:
- the reproduction of social relationships, the transmission of culture (particularly in education)
- reproduction of labour power; a worker has nothing but his or her labour power – but who deals with maintaining that labour power at the necessary level? – reproduction of men and women.
It is women who ensure reproduction for the most part if not entirely.
An important part of reality is not even mentioned in the Programme. We have not gone beyond Engels.
The role of the family as a material basis of women’s oppression is ignored.
As a result, the Programme is unable to point out “the way” to go to achieve the liberation of women.
2. Throughout the Programme, women are considered as just one among many other social strata. Yet women are to be found in all social classes and social strata and women are always the most oppressed of the oppressed.
3. The contradiction which pits men against women is not even cited as one of the major contradictions which divide society, let alone the most profound.
4. Hence not only is the question of women’s liberation posed incorrectly but so is the whole revolutionary strategy. The points dealing with women’s liberation have repercussions on not only the women’s struggle but on all aspects of the revolutionary struggle: on class analysis, on our conception of the vanguard, on our understanding of the revolutionary process and of the development of political consciousness, on our evaluation of the necessary preconditions for achieving communism.
Let us look a little more closely at the Programme.
Barely two sentences into the Programme we appeal to “the vanguard workers” (no mention of men and women workers) and “progressive elements who, in growing numbers over the past years, have understood.” Women must fall only into this second category of progressive elements who have understood. (Translators note: this is particularly evident in French where the term “ouvriers” is used instead of “ouvriers et ouvrieres” and “elements progressistes” could be either masculine or feminine.) This idea of the proletariat runs through the entire Programme.
We live in a world rife with misery and oppression in various forms.
This description of the world situation ignores fundamental facts about our epoch and leaves out a lot of qualifications and distinctions.
The oppression of women is included in a list of other forms of misery in the phrase “racial and sexual discrimination”, in between “illiteracy” and “many forms of repression”.
No mention of rape or violence against women. Nothing on forced sterilization or, in other periods, the obligation to bear children.
Misery is more viewed in economic and social terms. No talk about psychological misery, for example.
On the other hand, without any evidence, the Programme asserts that “ever since the first class societies, the exploited have aspired to a better life” as if the exploited were happy or did not – aspire to anything or as if there were no exploited before the appearance of class society. The Programme states that the proletarian revolution can put an end to “the capitalist relations of production that are now the fundamental obstacle to further progress for mankind.”
Most of humanity now lives under the yoke of imperialism, the final stage of capitalism.
In this article, the whole economic system is reduced to the production of surplus value.
Hence it is said that “Workers are forced to exchange their labour power for a wage that allows them to survive but that represents less value than that produced by their labour; this is the source of capital accumulation.”
Magically the worker is able to survive with nothing more than his wage.
Thus in the analysis of the economy, there is no assessment made at all of the family as a material structure where reproduction of labour power takes place. This is not done in terms of its economic role; still less is there discussion of the family’s cultural, psychological and sexual role. Nor is there any mention of the biological reproduction of the species.
The other ’tour de force’ in this article concerns the division of labour. There is no mention of the sexual division of labour or of the devaluation of the status of tasks performed by women which results in increased profits for the capitalists.
No reference either to the international division of labour, nor the division of labour based on race.
When we say that feminism should influence all of our political understandings, this is the kind of thing we are talking about.
The era of imperialism is also the era of proletarian revolution.
First, it is not true to say, as the Programme does, that the proletariat has nothing to lose but it chains. A large part of the proletariat, men workers, have privileges to lose.
The Programme ignores sexism and does not include it in its listing of the four main contradictions governing the contemporary world.
Nor can we maintain, as the Programme does, that “only proletarian leadership can lead the revolution on the path towards socialism”, given the definition of the proletariat in the Programme and given the analysis that there have been as many defeats as victories to date in the struggle for socialism. For example, nowhere has any society really undertaken to socialize domestic labour.
It leaves one feeling more than a little bit skeptical when the Programme talks of the firm application of Marxism-Leninism and the dictatorship of the proletariat – and says nothing about all other things.
Canada is an independent capitalist country that has reached the stage of imperialism. Socialist revolution is now on the agenda.
First, the description of Canadian society falls into a “misery fixation” and says nothing about things like consumer debt which can be just as alienating.
When the question of productivity is raised there is no mention of the part-time work which is increasingly widespread and mostly involves women and youth.
Here again all the Programme has to say is: “Socialist revolution is the only way that the working people of Canada can ensure both the full respect of the democratic rights of the oppressed strata (women’s liberation is here reduced to a democratic right – ed note) and the abolition of all exploitation.”
Socialist revolution has yet to prove that it is “the only way”. And socialist revolution is not on the agenda for the foreseeable near future for Canadian working people anyway.
The working class of Canada has proven that it is the leading force of the socialist revolution in the country.
The “leading role” or “vanguard role” of the “working class” (in some places the term worker is used instead – Transl. note: “ouvrier” is masculine but more important it connotes someone who does wage labour only) in the fight for women’s rights? Get serious. It is not true. The women’s movement has played this role.
The Programme does not talk at all about the specific contribution of women to the overall struggle of the proletariat. Thus problems are posed in more general social terms and there is a particular way of looking at the struggle in all aspects of life that is consistent with this omission.
Furthermore, this article communicates a very sectarian vision of the mass movement. Everything which is not Marxist-Leninist is categorized as one or another form of petty-bourgeois radicalism. That is what the “orthodox” conception of vanguard leads to. We can testify to this from our experience in working with the feminist movement in Canada.
The historic mission of the working class is to lead the world to communism.
Here again the Programme states that the abolition of all classes will “put an end to all the social divisions and inequalities”.
Communist society presupposes the extensive development of the productive forces. Now there is a truly economist way of looking at things! You cannot talk about a genuine communist society unless there is control over biological reproduction and complete socialization of domestic labour.
The Programme talks about eliminating the great opposition between mental and manual labour and between city and countryside. It adds that the abolition of classes “will also mean the elimination of the roots of women’s oppression”. Just where does the oppression of women really come in?
The emancipation of the workers will be the act of the workers themselves.
Communism, says the Programme, will only be possible “in a world totally rid of imperialist domination, capitalist exploitation, and bourgeois ideology”.
No question here of getting rid of the system of relationships which exist between the sexes, in particularly of patriarchy.
Another point: the process of revolution is reduced to the seizure of State power. Where that power lies exactly is not said.
Is this seizure of power something that only happens during insurrections, or is it possible that worker and people’s control are part of an apprenticeship in seizing and exercising power that begins under capitalism?
How are the dictatorship of the proletariat and “the broadest possible democracy for all working people” reconciled? How are workers’ control and (and more generally people’s control) reconciled with control by the State and the party?
What are women to expect from a programme which does not deal with their need to be equal in relation to their role in biological reproduction, their sexuality or their private life?
Why is it that even under socialism there is to be no revolutionization in social relations, no struggle to transform persons and the relationships which exist between them?
The task of the working class is to build the camp of the socialist revolution under the leadership of its vanguard party.
Progress: we discover that there are women in the working class. On the other hand, women are not included in the list of oppressed social strata described as the potential allies of the proletariat.
The proletarian party is described in terms that betray an elitist and militaristic vision of what a party should be: a detachment, the best fighters, the headquarters...
The party makes people conscious, the masses do the legwork.
The exploited strata are united “on the basis of the line defined by the party” and not by giving up the privileges which divide these various strata.
The preparation of the masses for revolution is described in military terms “arming the masses”. The ideological preparation for revolution is seen only in relation to dealing with the bourgeoisie. There does not seem to be any thought of any activity of self-organization of the masses being part of this preparation (the women’s movement has developed this theme of self-organization a great deal).
The proletarian party builds up the revolutionary camp by supporting the immediate struggles of working people.
As the head quoted above says, the party links up with struggles rather than being fully involved as an active participant and part of those struggles.
We support immediate struggles in order to protect the material and moral well-being of the masses. Everything is seen from a bit above the fray and indeed somewhat paternalistically. It reminds you of the sermons you used to hear in your youth in church.
One of the immediate demands made on the bourgeois State cited in this article is the demand for complete independence for various democratic mass organizations. The same autonomy is not, however, guaranteed under socialism.
The autonomy of nations is guaranteed, but not the autonomy of women.
The demand is raised for the equality of women in all areas of political, economic and social life, but there is no mention of private life.
There are other important “oversights”, like the right of women to control their bodies, the right to choose one’s own sexual orientation, the rights of youth – all of these are fundamental rights because they attack the family as an economic and cultural institution.
National Women’s Committee Janaury 1982