First Published: Revolution No. 4, April 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Women are grievously exploited and oppressed by capitalism. The fullest possible mobilisation of working class women is essential for the success of the socialist revolution, which alone can clear the path for their emancipation. The revolutionary Communist Party will win the leadership of the struggles of working Women as part of its struggle for the overthrow of capitalism. Communists will struggle for the militant revolutionary unity of the whole proletariat, and will develop women comrades to fight side by side with men.
1. The division of society into exploiting and exploited classes and the oppression of women are rooted in the same social development – the private ownership of the means of social production. “The first class opposition that appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression coincides with that of the female sex by the male”. (Engels. ’On the Woman Question’. p21).
2. In primitive communist society a non-oppressive division of labour based on sex existed. Because of their child-bearing function, women collected food in the locality of the settlement, and looked after the children at home, whilst the men went hunting. Because production was at subsistence level with no surplus, everyone had to work, and no possibility of exploitation existed, and no division into classes was possible.
3. “The increase of production in all branches – cattle-raising, agriculture, domestic handicrafts – gave human labour power the capacity to produce a larger product than was necessary for its maintenance.” (Engels. WQ p9). The possibility of surplus led to the historic struggle for the transfer of the commonly owned herds into the individual private property of clan members. These individuals were always men, because under primitive communism, procuring food was the men’s tasks and the implements for achieving this were owned by them. Thus they owned the new means of production – cattle and slaves. Those who were successful formed the basis of a privileged class, which oppressed and exploited the dispossessed of the clan, men and women alike.
4. In the old society, the domestic labour of women had been an equally important part of social production. Women therefore had an honoured place in the clan. In class society, as men took possession of the necessities of life, “the very cause that had formerly made women supreme in the house, namely being confined to domestic work, now assured the supremacy of the man”. (Engels). The centre of production moved away from the home with the development of agriculture. Women’s labour lost its status and was made a petty and private affair, cut off from the social production of the necessities of life. As slave society developed, the position of women of the household became more like that of slaves. Their political, economic and personal freedoms became more and more restricted during this period.
5. The family has changed throughout history in accord with historical development. The earliest forms of marriages were group marriages. The monogamous family arose in the earliest stages of civilisation in order to produce children of undisputed paternity, so the inheritance through the father could be ensured. This monogamy was female monogamy only. As Engels pointed out “Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other”. (WQ. p21.)
6. The old family system based on Mother-right (where kinship was traced through the mother) was antagonistic to the political and social degradation of women and the economic supremacy of men; therefore it had to be overthrown by monogamy. ”The overthrow of Mother-right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The women were degraded and reduced to servitude; she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of his children ”. (Engels. WQ. P16).
1. Women are primarily oppressed in the economic base of society. Under capitalism, women’s main tasks are still those of domestic slave, isolated from social production, to reproduce and maintain the labouring- power of waged workers in the family. Many women do go out to work and form part of the permanent work force, but they are generally employed in low status, unskilled and badly paid jobs, with little chance to improve that situation through training and experience. Other women workers are used as a reserve army of labour, which – because they are usually poorly organised – can be used entirely in the employers’ interest. In times of economic boom, women are brought into industry in large numbers; when they are no longer needed, they can just as easily be pushed back into the home.
2. Many women workers are super-exploited. In badly organised factories grading systems, job descriptions and ’bonus schemes’ can be used to disguise the fact that women are being paid less than men in the same work. This increases the rate at which surplus is appropriated by the employer.
3. Women also suffer many forms of political oppression. Because most women are economically dependent on men, their legal rights to property, unemployment and social security payments, admission to higher education and many occupations, responsibility over children and many other things are less than men. These political and legal inequalities in turn reinforce the economic oppression of women.
4. Women are oppressed ideologically. Bourgeois ideology attempts to justify the oppression of women by propagating the myth that women are inferior to men. These ideas of male superiority are often accepted by men and women alike, and contribute to the many instances of social discrimination against women. Because women are seen as inferior they are treated more as playthings and servants than thinking, sensible beings. Bourgeois ideology reinforces the economic oppression of women by glorifying domestic slavery and thus causing women to accept their position of social inferiority.
5. The family under capitalism is the basic economic unit of society. Women work in the home providing the catering, cleaning and child-care facilities that are necessary for reproducing and maintaining the labour-force for capitalism. It is in the bourgeoisie’s interests that these things are provided free in the home; for the bourgeoisie to provide them in adequate quantities would lead to a reduction in their profits. The bourgeois family is oppressive to women because it traps them in a continual round of unproductive, monotonous tasks, and excludes them from taking a full part in social production, and political activity. Women isolated in the home are much less able to resist the continual flow of bourgeois propaganda from the media. This, plus their lack of personal experience of exploitation can make such women politically backward at this stage.
6. Although capitalism has provided the means for many women to take part in social production, it can never emancipate them. The marginal improvements in women’s position under capitalism are purely to enable the capitalists to exploit larger numbers of workers. Social facilities, female employment, legal reforms are provided only as far as they are in the bourgeoisie’s interests. Under capitalism, working-class women at best have nothing more than a freedom to be exploited.
1. Only the socialist revolution can lay the basis for the complete emancipation of women. Under socialism, women will not be oppressed, although they will be unequal. As class contradictions are resolved in the development towards Communism, so the inequalities of women’s position will be eradicated. The socialist countries of China and Albania are making great progress in this struggle; they have proved in practice the correctness of the Marxist-Leninist position that the most important aspect of the struggle for women’s emancipation is to bring women into production and political life.
2. It is only a socialist, planned economy that can provide full employment for all who are willing to work. This lays the economic basis for equality between men and women. It also develops the social and political consciousness of women.
3. Before the vast majority of women can take part in social labour, it will be essential that much of their private domestic labour be socialised. Whereas in capitalist society, this is done only in so far as it serves the interest of profit; under socialism, facilities will be provided wherever there is social need. Nurseries, dining rooms, laundries, repair shops will all serve to help the proletarian family to make a greater contribution to socialist construction.
4. Only proletarian ideology can overcome the contradictions within the proletariat, and forge militant unity of all workers, by showing how racial, sexual and other such contradictions serve the bourgeoisie. Only the proletarian dictatorship can thoroughly defeat all forces hostile to the interests of the working class and all ideas which seek to undermine and destroy a socialist country by setting one section of the people against another.
1. It is the capitalist system that is the main cause of women’s oppression today. The principal contradiction in capitalist society is between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie. We must struggle to develop militant women communists and class conscious workers to fight alongside men for the victory of the socialist revolution.
2. We will carry out a bold struggle against all forms of opportunism as part of the task of rallying the vanguard around the Party. Within the working class, social democracy, revisionism and trotskyism are the main enemies. We must firmly oppose the economism of these bourgeois ideologies on the question of women’s emancipation.
3. We must oppose and expose the bourgeois feminists who seek to deepen the divisions between working men and women by denouncing all men as the main enemy and by glorifying “womanhood”. The strongest such tendency at present is “wages for housework”. We are opposed to separatism, the idea that the struggle against women’s oppression is the task of women alone. It is reactionary to organise women in separate sections of trade unions, as this fosters separatism. The future Party will organise and lead mass organisations of women, primarily working class women, in the struggle against the bourgeoisie. The Party will have no place for separate women’s sections, or for any organisations which seek to usurp its role as leader of the struggle against women’s oppression.
1. Bourgeois ideas are dominant in the working class. The ideas of male superiority and female inferiority as part of an unchangeable ’human nature’ are particularly strong at this stage in the struggle. We will point out the class basis of these ideas and struggle to unite the working class by working at it from two sides. The revolutionary Party must be aware of the objective problems women face and help them overcome them so that they can play the fullest possible role as militant communist fighters and leading cadres side by side with men.
2. We will struggle to win conviction among men for the greater sharing of domestic labour, and child care to help the greater and better participation of both men and Women in the class struggle. Rightist short-sightedness and ’Left’ absolute equalitarianism on this question must both be guarded against.
3. “Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other”. (Engels. WQ. p211.) Personal relationships based on subjugation and social inequality will destroy the unity of men and women in the struggle for the proletarian revolution, and give rise to antagonistic contradictions between them in their everyday life together. We will explain clearly that this is not the fault of the family as such, or of men, but of the capitalist system, which oppresses both men and women. We will defend the proletarian family, based on individual Monogamous sex-love, and struggle to transform it into a fighting unit of the revolution.
4. Homosexuality is in general a subjectivist and individualist reaction to certain subjective contradictions within class society, and can offer nothing to working class women. It must be expected to decline after the socialist revolution, and to progressively disappear with the advance towards communism. We will distinguish between the majority of homosexuals and the feminist lesbians who put homosexuality forward as a political and personal “solution”, thus denying class struggle.
5. The living standards of many working class families, the bourgeois ideology of male superiority and the economic dependence of women in the family are the main cause of domestic violence against women. We support the struggle to protect battered women, and we support the setting up of refuges for this purpose. At the same time we firmly oppose feminist attacks on the family as the main cause of women’s oppression.
Again the bourgeois ideology of male superiority and the economic dependence of women are the principal cause of rape. Rape centres to help victims of rape are progressive and, we support them. At the same time, we firmly oppose feminist and reformist reliance on punitive laws against rapists.
1. We will struggle for policies that enable women to take part in social production. It is at work that the working class is exploited, and where it organises collectively to defend itself. Working class women in industry will more easily be persuaded of their class interests and the contribution they must make to the class struggle, than will women isolated at home. We must rally all workers to the struggle against redundancies and unemployment, whether they affect, men or women.
2. The demand for equal pay and conditions is a just demand, which we support. Lower pay for women also helps the bourgeoisie to undercut men’s wages by using women as a cheap pool of labour.
3. We support the demand for equal job training and opportunities because the restriction of women to certain jobs is an integral part of their oppression. We oppose the bourgeois attempts to remove protective legislation governing the employment of women; instead we should struggle for this protection to be extended to all workers. Bourgeois ideology on the ’weakness’ of women and their ’unsuitability’ for certain work must be exposed as thoroughly un-scientific. We will struggle for all educational opportunities – in schools and in industry – to be open to women and men and for all jobs to be open to all regardless of sex or marital status.
4. We struggle for the greater specialisation of domestic labour because ”petty housework crushes, stultifies and degrades women” (Lenin. WQ. p56). At this stage the most important demand is that the state increases the provision for child-care. This will enable many women to enter production and prevent women having to withdraw from work because of domestic responsibilities. We demand that the state compels the employer to provide free crèches and nurseries at the place of work, open as long as the agreed working day, and that the state provides free crèches and nurseries in every locality, open 24 hours a day.
5. We will struggle to protect the rights of those women and working class families who do have children, and this is an important part of the struggle to enable women to play a fuller part in production and political activity. We struggle for maternity leave on full pay for 8 weeks before, and 12 weeks after childbirth, with no loss of job prospects. This should be available to all women, regardless of marital status.
6. All women regardless of marital status should have access to free and widely available contraceptive advice and methods. Because of inadequate child-care and contraception facilities, we support the struggle for abortion to be free and available on demand. At the same time, we will oppose and expose all attempts to bully and force working class women to limit the number of children they have through abortion or sterilisation. The right to control the size of their own families is important to working class men and women.
7. The social role of women as primarily responsible for domestic tasks is manifest in many restrictions on their legal rights. We will struggle against all discrimination on mortgages, tenancies, passports, hire-purchase facilities, income tax, social security and pension rights.
8. We are opposed to the oppression of homosexual men and women, and we support their just struggles against their specific oppression.
National Committee of the CFB (M-L)