For Real Women’s Liberation….There Is Only Revolution!
10-03-2018 – As we mark another International Women’s Day, a quick glance at basic numbers show just how far away the goal of equality, let alone liberation, for women remains. By the Australian government’s own statistics, women are paid $26, 527 less than men per year averaged out across all occupations. The official gender pay gap is 17.9%, or $284.20 per week. Domestic violence figures are nothing but shocking. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of the increasing scale of domestic violence. In Australia it is estimated that one woman per week is murdered by her current or former partner, one in three women have experienced physical violence, and one in five women have experienced sexual violence. Aboriginal women suffer rates of domestic violence that are many times higher. To the astonishment of those who believed that it had been previously won, access to the medical procedure of abortion remains on the criminal statutes in Queensland and New South Wales.
Why, despite all the gains of the second wave of feminism (the 1960s and 70s), do women still experience the myriad manifestations of oppression, even in the most “advanced” and wealthiest countries, topped with the most “liberal democratic” parliaments? In a word, because capitalism still rules, at least in Australia, Europe, and the United States, despite the ongoing economic crisis they have endured since 2008. The second wave of feminism, for all its victories, did not aim at the overturn of the rule of capital, despite a section of its participants supporting what they understood as “socialism”. Although some still adhere to a “left-wing” feminism, the second wave was relatively easily bought off and diverted into academia, high-paying public service jobs, or indeed the corporate world itself.
International Working Women’s Day
International Women’s Day began as International Working Women’s Day, as it was Clara Zetkin who was instrumental in pushing for its marking internationally. Zetkin was a German Marxist who worked within the Social-Democratic Party (SPD), but later joined the Independent Social-Democratic Party and then the far-left Spartacist League after the SPD had shown its true colours by fully backing the imperialist slaughter of the First World War. Zetkin was heavily influenced by the Bolshevik Party in Russia, and indeed worked closely with its central leader VI Lenin on a number of issues. Later, after the victory of the socialist revolution, the Soviet Union awarded her the Order of Lenin, the highest honour of the workers’ state. Clara Zetkin, Rosa Luxembourg and other founders of International Working Women’s Day were crystal clear on what can actually lead to the end of thousands of years of women’s subjugation through class society – the triumph of a proletarian revolution. They were also crystal clear on what the feminists of that time were really about – the winning of acceptance for wealthy and ruling class women within the male dominated echelons of the capitalist elite. All feminists in that time were bourgeois feminists, who cared not one whit about working class and poor women.
The family as a pillar of class society
The ABCs of Marxism locate the oppression of women within society’s smallest repressive unit – the nuclear family. Indeed, the three pillars of class society remain the family, private property and the state. The family is where, despite all the advances of the 20th century, women are primarily responsible for the care and welfare of its members, the upbringing of the young, and an overwhelming proportion of domestic labour. This burden is not lifted even where women take part in the labour force, not simply due to centuries of tradition, but also current government policy. The taxation system rewards mothers who stay at home full-time, and an unemployed woman cannot access meagre unemployment benefits if she is married, or even in a live-in relationship with a man. Basic child care is now privatised, and prohibitively expensive for most working class women. Capitalism is thus not simply an unequal economic system – it is also comes with political and ideological justifications for the second class status of women – which are ultimately enforced by the armed police and military wings of its state.
As the family arose historically in concert with the formation of class society, it follows that the family, and women’s oppression within it, cannot be dissolved without the dissolution of class society itself. Frederick Engels, co-founder with Karl Marx of the theory of scientific socialism, sketched the outlines of how women could be relieved of the duties that society itself should be responsible, enabling the full participation of women in productive, political and social life:
“ With the passage of the means of production into common property, the individual family ceases to be the economic unit of society. Private housekeeping is transformed into a social industry. The care and education of children becomes a public matter.”
In the aftermath of the 1917 October Revolution, the new Soviet government began to implement some of these far-reaching changes. Communal laundries, communal eating houses and crèches which delivered essentially free child care were established. Marriage was made a civil registration issue, which could be dissolved at the request of either party. Property ownership and inheritance was separated from marriage. The concept of illegitimate children was abolished, as were all feudal laws against homosexuality. Abortion was made a part of the health system, and provided to all women who needed it. Although all these gains were later reversed through the isolation of the Soviet Union and the lack of other workers’ revolutions breaking through, these efforts remain a glimpse of what is possible with workers in power.
Can a feminist movement deliver?
A workers’ government, however, or anything even remotely approaching it, is not the aim of what is loosely described as a feminist movement today. This is not because there are not many women within it who are appalled at the direction in which society is heading, and even are dead against the capitalist system with its numberless crimes. Primarily, this flows from essentially classless feminist ideology, which sees the fundamental division in society as being between women and men, rather than being between labour and capital. Of course, there are feminists who recognise that it is not men per se who are the enemy. There are various strands of feminism which do not advocate separatism. And there are also “socialist” and “Marxist” feminists who claim that socialism and feminism can be melded together as easily as writing down the words in succession. But this is an illusion.
Practice is always the test of theory. And in practice, as long as the feminist movement includes ALL women, or states that its aim is to liberate ALL women, the movement will be tied up in its own contradictions. As long as Gina Rinehart, the billionaire mining magnate, and Anna Bligh, the former Labor Party premier who is now head of the Australian bankers association, can claim that they are part of the feminist movement by virtue of their gender, feminism will lie exposed as a cross-class doctrine which ultimately only serves the elite. Even female small business owners, high-paid lawyers and journalists have no real interest in abolishing the system of private production for private profit. While they may experience some discrimination that all women face, materially they can virtually buy their way out of oppression.
Moreover, a feminist movement which allies itself with ruling class women, or political representatives of them such as the Labor Party – can only damage the prospects of working class women, regardless of their intentions. Sometimes this is explicit. The blurb for the International Women’s Day rally being organised in Brisbane this year actually states point blank that “Women’s liberation means ALL women, all classes [!?!}, all backgrounds, from all countries and all cultures”. It seems unnecessary to have to point out that if class privilege and class exploitation continues, working class women will continue to suffer unbearably, while wealthy women will sail along basically unaffected. And this is to say nothing of the poverty and anguish that women in the Third World endure. Yet this is the logic of an “all inclusive” (classless) feminist movement.
In the same way that humanity cannot be liberated from capitalism other than through the seizure of state power by the working class, women cannot be liberated in any other way other than through a socialist revolution. That is, the oppression all women suffer cannot be eliminated without first liberating working class women. It is axiomatic that a socialist revolution can only succeed by politicising and mobilising the workers, regardless of gender. Its immediate concern is not at all the middle and upper classes. Similarly, a movement for women’s liberation can only succeed if it aims at empowering working class women – rather than well-paid women in comfortable corporate or academic careers, nor indeed, well-remunerated female but conservative Union officials, building superannuation nest eggs on the back of the workers’ dire needs.
Feminists for imperialist war
The political elements leading this year’s International Women’s Day rallies appear to be a combination of the dead hand of the Labor Party (even Labor Party Members of Parliament!), conservative Trade Union officials, the Australian Greens, domestic violence support and health services, polite society women’s peace groups, Amnesty International through to left parties such as the Socialist Alliance and the Cloudland Collective. These seemingly disparate political groups give the impression that they stand not only for a world free of discrimination against women, but also a world full of peace and harmony. Yet little could be further from the truth. Each and every one of these political organisations were either silent, or were vociferous advocates, of the imperialist wars on Libya and Syria, which were unforgivable crimes of annihilation over the last seven years. Further, not one of them utters a word of dispute, let alone opposition, to the relentless drive to thermonuclear war led by the US Empire targeting Russia, Iran, the DPRK (“North Korea”) and China. It is their collective fealty to Anglo/US/AUST imperialist power, rather than their dissent, which enables them to unite for “women”.
To be sure, there are some women and individuals who identify as feminist who genuinely oppose imperialist war, from whichever direction it approaches. But while these folk remain united with the likes of the Labor Party here, not to speak of embracing Hilary “Destroyer of Worlds” Clinton in the US as one of their own, they will continue to pay yeoman’s service to the very cause they themselves oppose. It is scarcely necessary to state that one cannot claim, in any way, to stand for the rights of women while simultaneously backing the potential military obliteration of millions of women from Libya, Syria, Russia, Iran, China, the DPRK or whichever Third World country next bobs up on the Pentagon’s radar.
For a workers’ party which champions women’s liberation
It is one of the most revealing non sequiturs – feminist activists railing against the very real problem of domestic violence against women, whilst looking away as Canberra follows Washington into yet another atrocious war. Yet this contradiction flows naturally from other feminist contradictions. While rightfully highlighting the injustices of the gender pay gap, abortion services remaining out of reach, the double shift (paid work and domestic work), the crushing expectations to be perfect mothers and sex symbols at the same time, not being safe on the streets at night and so on, the feminist movement is effectively still captive to the bourgeois feminists – almost exactly 100 years after the October Socialist Revolution. That is, in practice, the feminist movement campaigns against the effects of the capitalist system, rather than the rule of capital itself. This is consciously backed by the likes of the Labor Party, self-serving Union officials, and pro-corporate women’s advocacy organisations, but unconsciously backed by those trailing in their wake, including some left parties.
The second wave of feminism, in the 1960s and 70s, undoubtedly made some serious gains for the standing of women, at least in the countries of the First World. However the feminist movement today is still hampered by a political leadership loyal to ruling class women, but now with a more sophisticated “inclusive”, and even pro-Union, vernacular. What is desperately needed is not a feminist movement as such, but a movement for women’s liberation. The political leadership of such a movement would be committed to irreconcilable opposition to the capitalist system in toto. This means a leadership which does not hesitate to split from ANY representative of the ruling elite, especially the likes of the Hilary Clinton, Anna Bligh or Annastacia Palaszczuk. More than this, the capitalist Labor Party cannot be allowed to pose as the saviour of women for a moment longer. Women’s liberation can only be really championed by a Marxist vanguard party, which stops at nothing to weld together the most politically advanced and class-conscious women and men in a resolute struggle to overturn the lawless rule of finance capital. The liberation of women begins with the triumph of socialism. Let us build it now.
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