Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Revolution and the Emancipation of Women

Two Speeches Given at a Forum on International Women’s Day in San Francisco, Sponsored by the Communist League, the San Francisco Marxist-Leninist Organization, and the League for Proletarian Revolution


First Published: May 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.


In reporting on the Bay Area celebrations of International Women’s Day, the March 20th issue of The Guardian mentioned fantastic food, auto-mechanics seminars, poetry readings, and other events specializing in “exposures” of the new and profound discovery that women are oppressed. But they didn’t include any notice of the more than 150 people gathered together to listen to communist analyses of the women question, and support the movement to build a new communist party. This significant event was “overlooked”.

In contrast to The Guardian and so-called communist organizations such as The Revolutionary Union and the October League (who in the March issue of their paper, The Call, advised communists to bring “their militancy, organizing abilities, and experience” to the women’s movement, without one word about bringing the science of Marxism-Leninism), the organizations sponsoring this forum took the view that the most important task of communists in relation to the emancipation of women is the development of women as communist leaders of the working class. There must be communist leadership of the women’s movement. It must be transformed from a movement for reforms under the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie into a class movement fighting for the liberation of the proletariat and all oppressed peoples, for it is only under the dictatorship of the proletariat that the emancipation of women can be realized. That is why we are concentrating on the task of building a new non-revisionist multi-national communist party of the proletariat.


(talk given by a representative of the San Francisco Marxist-Leninist Organization[1])

We communists base our understanding of the world on the science of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought. Marxism teaches us that ail things are constantly in the process of changing; that these changes, while influenced and conditioned by things around then, are caused by internal contradictions. Applying this historically, we know that the rise of exploitation and oppression started with the institution of private property, and since that time the entire course of human history has developed as a result of the sharp struggle between the masses of exploited and oppressed people and the very few having property. As Karl Marx and Frederick Engels noted in the Communist Manifesto,

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles, freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.[2]

Based on this we know that the emancipation–liberation–of women can be accomplished only through the emancipation of the working class–and therefore of all society–by a socialist revolution, the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the wiping out of all remnants of the propertied classes.

The role of women has always been bound up with their role in the process of production. Male supremacy and the corresponding myth of female inferiority arose with the development of class society and with the isolation of women from the process of production. In advanced capitalist society, women have become–more and more–an integral part of the working class. With the exploitation and oppression of women as modern workers–as proletarians–comes the seeds of their own emancipation. As their role in the productive forces increases, it is possible and absolutely necessary that women become leaders not just in the women’s movement, but more importantly in the Communist movement–in the fight for socialism.

As Marxist-Leninists, we are presently preparing for the formation of a new non-revisionist, multi-national Communist Party. Without such a party, the working class will never win its freedom and will fall victim to fascist terror. Women communists have the same central task as all other communists, the formation of this Party. Once our Party is formed, it will provide us with the indispensable leadership to guide the numerous struggles of the laboring masses–one of the most important being the liberation of women.

Our purpose here is to provide a brief summary of the growth of the women’s struggle for emancipation based on an understanding of the development of productive forces, particularly in the era of imperialism–dying capitalism. Without such an historical analysis our new Party’s program on the women’s struggle will only sink to the level of emotion, sentimentality and idealism.

As Comrade Stalin said in his essay, “Anarchism and Socialism”,

History teaches us that the group that plays the principle role in social production and that performs the main functions will assume control of that production.

Primitive agriculture was the main kind of production in primitive, communal society. Women played the principal role in its development. With the domestication of cattle, the productive forces of society developed and men–who had played the principal role in the breeding and domestication of herds–became the controllers of production. With this division of labor, the exchange of commodities became possible. With this exchange began the accumulation of wealth.

The development of slavery, followed by the development of feudalism, kept women isolated from production, whether agricultural or handicraft. Socially, the role of women was altered. Under slavery, slaves–men and women–were bred like cattle. No family existed, except among slave holders. But, under feudalism, which required more independent serfs, the institution of the family was required in order to guarantee the stability of society and the rearing of new serfs. It was only with the development of capitalism that women were brought back into the productive forces. As capitalism advanced, the role of women changed and developed along with the advancement of the productive forces.

The rise of capitalism took women out of the home and into the working class. This didn’t mean that the domestic labor of working women ceased, but only that they took on two jobs, now, instead of one.

The first form of capitalist labor that women engaged in developed first in Europe, particularly England. This was domestic industry, which involved spinning, weaving and other handicraft done in the home. By the beginning of the 1800’s, women and children in England were involved in large-scale production. Before the wide-scale use of machines, women and children were employed in their place. When capitalism was just developing, the cost of maintenance of women and children was cheaper and more profitable than the purchase of heavy machinery. All through the civilized world, women performed heavy labor and died, very often, from simple overwork. Working conditions were so abominable and the struggles against them were reaching such a level that the bourgeoisie was forced to pass a few liberal, labor laws limiting the workday to 12 hours and forbidding women and children from working in the mines. These restrictions helped lead to the wider use of machinery, and in turn, to even larger-scale production.

As women became part of the proletariat, the basis for male supremacy within the working class was shaken to its roots. Since women no longer remained at home and were no longer dependent on men, and since the proletariat had no private property to pass on to its sons, the subjugation of women had no objective basis in the proletariat. Male supremacy remained–and still remains–as a representative of bourgeois ideology. Its function was–and is–to divide working class men and women.

In this country, the growth of the productive forces–and therefore the change in the role of women-can be divided into four periods:

1. Struggle against slavery and the rise of large-scale production.
2. The development of monopoly capitalism and imperialism, and the intensification of the struggles of the working class.
3. The Depression of the 1930’s and World War II.
4. The current period of new capitalist crisis, of imperialism turning into fascism.

Until the 1850’s the relations of production in the U.S. were characterized by agriculture and small-scale production. Under these conditions, unlike those in England, women were mainly tied to the home and family, or were used as domestic servants. The main exception was in the South, where Negro slaves–both men and women–were used as field hands, laborers and domestics.

It was slavery which blocked the rise of large-scale production, north and south, and it was the struggle against slavery and the Civil War which allowed capitalism to advance. Under the banner of the bourgeoisie’s fight against the feudal relations of slavery, there arose the struggles of the exploited and oppressed masses–the Abolitionist movement, the rise of the modern trade union movement, and the Suffragettes, the women’s movement. The Suffrage movement developed out of the Abolitionist movement, in which many women had played a leading role–such as Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe. It concentrated on the right to vote and was comprised, for the most part, of women from the petti-bourgeoisie. Because of this, the Suffrage movement was unable to advance since it did not represent the interests of the great masses of women. It was only with the further development of the productive forces that the women’s movement was able to advance.

The second period in the development of the productive forces in this country was the development of monopoly capitalism and the beginning of U.S. imperialism. The working class was concentrated as never before in large-scale production. The contradiction between the social nature of production and the private character of ownership became increasingly sharp. Massive strikes, particularly in the textile and garment industries, marked the early 1900’s. Workers–many of them women–struggled for better working conditions, shorter hours, the elimination of child labor, and other reforms. An example of the struggle of this period was the strike of garment workers in New York and Philadelphia in 1909. This very militant strike involved 3 0,000 workers, 75% of whom were women.

Not all the struggles of this period were centered at the workplace. Women workers were active in opposing U.S. imperialism’s predatory war against Cuba in 1898, and against the Phillipines and China. Such leaders of the proletariat as Mother Jones, the famous organizer of miners and steelworkers, took an active role in organizing demonstrations to oppose the use of the Army and National Guard against striking workers and to oppose U.S. intervention in Mexico and other places in Central America.

The Depression and World War II brought many changes. First, the Depression was a period of great upheaval, a major crisis in capitalism. It represented a significant break with the past in that for the first time, the questions of socialist revolution were spread throughout the working class. The rise of the Communist Party coincided with the crisis in capitalism. Women, as some of the most oppressed and exploited sections of the working class, were won over to the Communist movement.

(It’s not our purpose here to detail the rise of revisionism and opportunism, but we need to understand that with this crisis, the ruling class stepped-up its attack and infiltration of the working class. One result was the development of revisionism in the CPUSA, which effectively sabotaged the growth of the revolutionary socialist movement of this period.)

As a result of World War II and the drafting of men into the military service, the bourgeoisie was forced to bring women into new areas of large-scale industry. This included all areas of transportation, heavy and light metals manufacturing, machine tool operations, etc. While this situation did not remain when the war ended, it did create inroads for women in such industries as auto, chemical and generally in manufacture.

Today, this country has entered a period of new capitalist crisis, in which dying imperialism is developing toward fascism–open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie.

Since World War II, women have continued to enter the proletariat, particularly large-scale production, in ever increasing numbers. At the same time, the working class as a whole faces increasing impoverishment and exploitation. We have already seen that this is a period of great working class militancy, which has included mass struggles against war and militarism involving millions of people, and a period of open rebellions and uprisings, particularly among the masses of the oppressed nations and national minorities. As the working class movement advances, there has been a new rise in the women’s struggle for emancipation, as well.

We can now see that the working class as a whole–women and men–cannot develop their struggle any further without a socialist revolution, because at this time the productive forces are unable to develop any further. They are held back by the primitive character of the ownership of the means of production. This is why, as Chairman Mao said, “Revolution is the main trend in the world today.” Our choice is between socialism and fascism. And with the consolidation of fascism will come the onslaught of bourgeois ideology. One form that ideology takes is male supremacy, which we must diligently and consistently demolish.

As we look at history, we can see that women have played an important role in the leadership of proletarian revolutionary struggles. Women were active in the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and in the anti-fascist underground of World War II. In the successful proletarian revolutions of our time–China, Albania, Vietnam, Korea–women have been leaders in the communist parties; they have been revolutionary soldiers; and they have been organizers in every aspect of the struggle.

We can see that these revolutions have meant great leaps forward in the emancipation of women. Before liberation in China, for example, women had no rights at all. They were rarely involved in social production, could not own any property, and were–for the most part–domestic slaves. With the liberation, one of the first laws of the new government was the 1950 Marriage Law. It abolished arranged marriages, guaranteed divorce, and entitled women to own property and to have full rights under the law.

As Marx said,

The development of a given historical epoch can always be gauged by the degree of progress of the women towards freedom...the level of emancipation of women represents the natural measure of total emancipation.[3]

To this end, the parties of all socialist countries today consider women’s emancipation an integral part of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

The key to women’s liberation in socialist societies is their active participation in economic, political and social life. In this respect, Chairman Mao advised well when he said,

Unite and take part in production and political activity to improve the economic status of women.[4]

It is here that women attain their economic independence, acquire a proletarian world outlook, and are trained as leaders of the proletarian movement.

In China, for example, by 1971, at the end of the Cultural Revolution, 90% of all Chinese women were active in social production. They participated in all areas of work. The Cultural Revolution also resulted in an even greater number of women being schooled in Marxism-Leninism and trained to hold positions of responsibility within the Party.

The socialist countries themselves, however, are the first to admit that they still have a long way to go. In rural areas, for example, conditions change slowly and old ideas maintain their hold. Bourgeois and feudal ideology are not easily destroyed. These struggles will continue as long as class societies still exist in the world.

In summary, we would like to say that women have not always been in the inferior position that they are today. The oppression of women arose with the division of society into classes and the rise of private property. Under capitalism, as women become part of the working class, they have become a source of great strength within the proletariat.

Comrade Stalin wrote in Pravda on March 8, 1925,

Working women–workers and peasants–are the greatest reserve of the working class. This reserve constitutes a good half of the population. The fate of the proletarian movement, the victory or defeat of the proletarian power depends on whether or not the reserve of women will be for or against the working class.

That is why the first task of the proletariat and its advanced detatchment, the Communist Party, is to engage in decisive struggle for the freeing of women workers and peasants from the influence of the bourgeoisie, for political education and the organization of women workers and peasants beneath the banner of the proletariat.

Only when private property–the basis of the oppression and exploitation of women–is destroyed can the emancipation of women be truly under way. In order to achieve this goal, we must build a new Marxist-Leninist Communist Party of the working class which can organize among the broad masses of women and bring this great power and strength to the side of the proletarian revolution.


(talk given by a representative of the League for Proletarian Revolution)

Today is International Working Women’s Day: a day which signifies the glorious tradition of women united in struggle for the emancipation of all exploited and oppressed peoples. Speaking for the League for Proletarian Revolution, I extend warm greetings to the revolutionary women of all countries and to the working women of our country! There has never been a great movement of the oppressed in the history of mankind that would have occurred without the participation of women. Working women have never stood aloof from the broad path of the liberation movement, which has produced hundreds and thousands of martyrs and heroines.

Women’s liberation movements have always occurred in bourgeois democratic states; but not in a single one, not even in the most advanced, have these movements succeeded in freeing women or making significant changes, because where capitalism exists, where private ownership of land and factories is preserved, where the power of capital reigns, men and women will be unequal. Why? Because male supremacy has its origin and economic basis in the accumulation of private property and was established in order to preserve it. Bourgeois law, including the right of inheritance, which exists for the possessing class and their dealings with the proletariat, protects this supremacy and makes it effective. That is why the rule of capital must be destroyed before the emancipation of men and women can occur. This thesis, that there is a real connection between the social, political and economic position of women and private property of the means of production–that real freedom for women is possible only through socialism and communism–makes clear the distinction between Marxism and feminism and supplies the basis for regarding the woman question as bound firmly to the proletarian class struggle and revolution. This has been confirmed by the experience of the proletariat over the past hundred years.

How do these lessons of Marxism, borne out historically, bear on our tasks as communists? And how does our work as communists relate to the women’s movement? The task of communists, the central and most urgent task, is to build a new and genuine communist party. This means that all other tasks and struggles become secondary. Does this mean that we deny the democratic struggle for the liberation of women? No, it does not! On the contrary, this struggle, along with the struggle for democratic rights for oppressed nations, constitute the main democratic tasks of the dictatorship of the proletariat. But as history has shown, these struggles are bound firmly to the proletarian class struggle and their success depends on the independence and initiative of the proletarian revolutionary line and on the revolutionary organization of the proletariat. Does it mean that women must sit back idle and wait for the dictatorship of the proletariat? Absolutely not! It means that the work of building a party involves the training of Marxist-Leninist women to be leaders of the proletariat. Women must be transformed from leaders of the women’s movement into ideological leaders of the class. This, first and foremost, must be the relation between Marxism and the women’s movement during the period of party-building. As communists, we must agitate for this, focus on this, and make this the outstanding point. It is an urgent demand of the class. Without a communist party, without theoretically trained leaders, without the defeat of opportunism and revisionism, we will never succeed in leading these movements to full victory. In addition, we must integrate closely with the movement of women workers in the most oppressed and exploited section of the class, especially at the workplace. And we must make clear that women’s struggle for democratic rights, the struggle for reforms, should be a movement of the class, and not s imply of women.

What ideas are often put forward on the woman question in opposition to Marxism-Leninism and revolution? Spokeswomen for the feminists generally put forward the view that women should organize separately from men, that integrated groups are dominated by male supremacy which fetters women in their development. It is a fact, a part of objective reality, that historically men have been the leaders of movements in struggle, and that the role of women, while differing in different circumstances, has been subordinate. This is because women have not only been oppressed as members of a class, but also because they are oppressed as women. Still, this does not justify putting forth a set of ideas that attempts to define a point of view special to women. The special oppression of women is part of class oppression, and within the proletariat we must deny a special man’s or woman’s ideology. In past proletarian struggles’, undoubtedly the male comrades were infected with ideas of male supremacy. But the women didn’t refuse to engage in revolutionary struggle alongside of the men, and the policies which were carried out indicated a genuine concern for the emancipation of women. My recent trip to China indicated to me how it was the victory of their democratic and socialist revolutions that opened up the broad road for women’s emancipation. I saw how women play an active role in social production, are developing their consciousness, and are advancing as leaders. I observed and listened to comrades speak of how remnants of the old, feudal ideas, that women are inferior to, less capable than, servants of men, persist. But it is clear to me that the Chinese are waging a protracted struggle against these 2000-year old patriarchal and reactionary ideas. The Chinese Communist Party, upon seizure of state power, included in the Constitution the recognition of equal rights for women politically, socially, economically and domestically; they instituted a marriage law, and specified that women would receive equal pay for equal work. Recognition of the need to improve the economic and political status of women was reflected both in outlook and policies. The existence of separate women’s organizations was never intended to oppose Marxism-Leninism, but to enhance it. Their tasks were never divorced from the class struggle, but firmly bound to it. One thing is certain: we must never blame Marxism-Leninism for the fact that the role of women hasn’t been as advanced as that of men. Nor should we blame men for the objective conditions that have bred ideas of male supremacy. These conditions are the result of a system of private property. While we must struggle against these contradictions among the people, we must first and foremost overthrow the rule of capital. The Chinese people have succeeded in establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Now their efforts are directed towards grasping the class struggle, becoming more educated in Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought, eliminating the influence of revisionism, and building socialism. Under these conditions, it is possible to win full emancipation.

Today it is still a fact that men generally lead the movement of the class. But it is equally true that the objective situation of women has changed over the past 100 years. In social production, cultural development and political understanding, women are far more advanced than they’ve ever been. They are, by and large, as literate as men, and are as capable of playing a leading role in the revolutionary class struggle. In fact, as the proletarian class has no private property to speak of, the objective basis for male supremacy is disappearing. Engels said, in The Origin of the Family,

Now that large-scale industry has taken the wife out of the home onto the labor market and into the factory, and made her often the bread-winner of the family, no basis for any kind of male supremacy is left in the proletarian household–except, perhaps, for something of the brutality towards women that has spread since the introduction of monogamy.

And in The Communist Manifesto we find,

The less the skill and exertion of strength implied in manual labour, in other words, the more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labour of men superseded by that of women. Differences of age and sex have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments of labour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and sex.

In short, the gap between men and women–the material conditions which separate them–is undermined with the development of capitalism. As more and more women take part in production, are educated, are more active, it should be less necessary to organize separately. Yet there is a subjective consciousness which lags behind the objective conditions. The feminists hold on to their subjective feelings and emphasize the contradictions between men and women. The men maintain, perhaps to a greater extent, feelings of male supremacy. We must grasp the significance of the material, economic conditions which eliminate these social distinctions between men and women, and turn them into a force for organizational unity and revolutionary struggle. We must engage in ideological struggle and defeat this subjectivity, we must overcome oppressive relations, we must demand that advanced women train themselves to be leaders of the class, We must not capitulate to any set of ideas which intensifies the contradictions within the proletariat. Marxism-Leninism, a class point of view, cannot be reconciled with feminism, a “woman’s” point of view.

There are others who lack a sound Marxist-Leninist training, and who adopt bits and pieces of feminism which leads them astray. They substitute the struggle for women’s liberation for the revolutionary class struggle. The result is reformism–the movement for better conditions under capitalism–which objectively holds back both the women’s movement and the class struggle. Their justification for this practice varies. Some argue that women don’t want anything to do with revolution until women are equal in it. What is the result? All sorts of preconditions for women’s participation in the revolution are created. The most common is for free childcare, which it is argued, is a significant struggle with practical results, and will free women and enable them to take part in revolutionary activity. Now the demand for child care centers is a good thing. But we know that the bourgeoisie will not fully meet this demand, and we know, further, that we can never rely on the bourgeoisie to provide the conditions for freeing women to engage in revolutionary work. This demand must come as a by-product of our revolutionary work and not as a precondition, or a substitute, or excuse, for it. Others insist that women’s activities, the establishment of health centers or consciousness-raising groups, for example, have immediate and positive effects, and that there isn’t anyone else taking these questions seriously. To this we would answer: to take these questions seriously is to build a communist party, with an independent line, Which will make it possible to link up the struggle for democratic rights for women and oppressed peoples with the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat. The movements of women and oppressed nations are not communist movements. It is idealism to think of these movements being victorious without revolution. It is reformism to try to lead these struggles without combining them with, and subordinating them to, the struggle against the bourgeoisie. It is opportunism to try to reconcile these struggles with Marxism-Leninism.

It is towards the opportunists that we want especially to direct our fire. While claiming to be Marxist-Leninists, but lacking definite principles, the opportunists try to reconcile revolutionary theory with reformist practice. They do not try to justify their reformism, they try to conceal it. They use the democratic struggles of women or of national minorities as an “exercise in revolution”, as a means of preparing people for the next stage. Rather than adopting a revolutionary theory and outlook to guide their practice, they tail behind the spontaneous movement and give up theory on the grounds that it isn’t relevant to their practice. Of course they don’t say this. But what they have said is that the masses must go through a stage of developing a militant outlook in order to prepare for the communist outlook. This same stages theory has been around for more than 70 years; it is the only possible rationalization for not propagating the ideas one actually believes in, or professes to believe in. But if left to the opportunists, the next stage would never see the light of day. Why? Because class consciousness, recognition of the need to overthrow capitalism and not simply reform it, can never develop spontaneously out of the struggle for reforms. The movement for reforms will continue and the opportunists will continue to adapt themselves to the “movement”. They will attempt to attach themselves to any movement in order to claim leadership of it, in order to unite with whatever and whoever they can, and all at the expense of Marxist-Leninist principles. The so-called “Communist” Party and the so-called “Socialist” Workers’ Party both openly combine Marxism with feminism: they keep both kinds of goods in stock and find a use for each. Among the forces claiming to build a new communist party, we find that the Revolutionary Union and the October League have not separated themselves from the politics of opportunism. The debate on the Equal Rights Amendment(ERA) is a perfect example. The Revolutionary Union opposed the ERA, arguing that if passed it would take away the rights that women had gained over the years. The October League responded, No! The ERA won’t take away the rights of women, and argued that we could fight to see that men got them, too. This phoney debate never focused on Marxism-Leninism: neither ever advocated it, both simply responded to the spontaneous movement. In essence they were arguing with each other about who really provides better leadership for the women’s movement, when neither of them are really giving any class leadership, because neither are concerned about ideology or revolution.

For genuine communists, ideological preparation is crucial. The movement is moving on, despite the opportunists. We must build the communist party, defeat opportunism and revisionism, and lead the movement for proletarian revolution.


[1] Since International Women’s Day the League for Proletarian Revolution and the San Francisco Marxist-Leninist Organization have merged, The new organization has retained the name League for Proletarian Revolution.

[2] Marx, Communist Manifesto, pps. 30-31, Foreign Languages press, Peking 1972

[3] Peking Review, “Talking of Women’s Liberation”, PR #10, 1973

[4] Party of Labor of Albania, quoting Marx, “On Further Intensification of the Campaign for the Enhancement of their Role in Socialist Society,” On the Liberation of Women in Albania, Gamma Publications, Inc., New York pg.11.