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Future Socialist Society

John Molyneux

The Future Socialist Society

7. Women’s liberation

It has become a commonplace among feminists that a socialist revolution will not automatically liberate women. They are right of course. For even after the revolution nothing happens automatically. History is made by human beings, and the struggle to overcome the oppression of women will have to be fought for and won.

Nevertheless the socialist revolution will initiate the process of ending the age old oppression of women and the transition to socialism will complete it. The reason for this is simple. Socialism is before all else the self-emancipation of the working class and the majority of the working class are women. Thus without the complete emancipation of women it is impossible to speak of the complete emancipation of the working class, and therefore impossible to speak of socialism.

This doesn’t make the liberation of women automatic. But it makes the fight for women’s liberation a central task in the transition to socialism. Moreover, just as miners’ wives who fought in the great strike of 1984–5 were transformed by the experience, so working class women who have made a revolution will never be willing to accept the role of second class citizens.

So how will women’s liberation be achieved?

First will come a number of legal measures which are very straightforward and can, and will, be taken immediately by the workers’ state. These include: the abolition of every vestige of legal inequality between men and women and the outlawing of every form of discrimination against women; the establishment of the right to free contraception and free abortion on demand; the right to immediate divorce on demand and the right to equal pay and job opportunities.

It might be objected that many (though not all) of these provisions are already in force in capitalist Britain and are ineffectual-the equal pay law being the most obvious example. Here we must remember the changing context. The fact that the workers’ state will immediately become the main employer, and eventually the only employer, and that all major institutions in society will be under democratic workers’ control will ensure that these laws are translated into practice.

Many other social changes will also contribute to and facilitate the liberation of women. There will be anti-sexist teaching in schools and where sexist teachers remain they will doubtless be firmly corrected by their students. The transformation in ownership and control of the media will mean that these too become a force for anti-sexism rather than for sexism as at present.

Since with the abolition of capitalist competition advertising in its present form will disappear, so too will the use of exploitative images of women to promote goods. All forms of violence against women will be seriously combatted.

However, as important and necessary as all these measures will be, none of them goes to the heart of the matter. They deal with the symptoms and effects of women’s oppression rather than its source. That source lies in the position of women within the family and the role that the family has played in class divided society as a whole and in capitalist society in particular.

In capitalism today the raising of children and the care of the present generation (in economic terms, the reproduction of labour power) is primarily the responsibility of the privatised nuclear family. Within the family the burden of this work falls mainly on women. The advantages of this arrangement for capitalism are obvious – it gets its labour power produced and refreshed at minimal cost and it divides and fragments the working class.

The disadvantages for women are equally clear. Their access to paid employment is interrupted and restricted; their career prospects are damaged; they tend to be isolated in the home and to a greater or lesser extent they are economically dependent upon their husbands.

This is the root problem that will have to be solved to achieve the permanent and complete liberation of women as part of the transition to socialism.

But the family is not an institution which can be abolished overnight by decree. It has to be replaced. What is more, the institutions that replace it have to be better at meeting the real human needs at present served by the family, so that people will adopt them voluntarily.

The key task is the efficient and caring socialisation of housework and child care. This means creating a comprehensive network of community restaurants serving a variety of cheap (eventually free) good food. It means providing communal laundry and house cleaning services. It means, above all, providing good nursery and creche facilities for every young child and properly organised baby-sitting services for every parent.

In so far as patterns of communal living are developed, which seems likely, this will considerably assist with all of these problems. It is when this is achieved that child rearing will cease to be a socially disadvantageous burden in any way and become an overwhelmingly positive experience willingly shared equally by men and women.

Likewise, who people live with and for how long will be a matter of purely personal choice, unconstricted by economic pressures or by the old religious codes and social conventions which reflect those pressures.

Women will at last be free from the subordination they have suffered since the beginning of class society 6,000 to 7,000 years ago.

Clearly the implementation of such a programme will require large economic resources, strong political will and mass involvement. No capitalist government would attempt it or could achieve it. But that is why it is only through socialism that women will win their liberation.

And hand in hand with women’s liberation will come gay and lesbian liberation. Naturally the legal and educational measures undertaken to combat the oppression of women will be applied in this sphere too.

But ultimately it will be the transcendence of the bourgeois family and the achievement of real equality for women that will remove the basis of homophobia. A world where the family no longer needs to be defended, and where being ‘a man’ no longer means being superior to women, will be a world where the gay man and the lesbian woman are no longer perceived by anyone as a threat.

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Last updated: 15 November 2015