Marxist Women versus Bourgeois Feminism

Draper, Hal; Lipow, Anne G.
Publisher:  Socialist Register
Year Published:  1976
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX7257

The texts presented here are intended to revive acquaintance with a revolutionary women's movement, which was undoubtedly the most important one of its kind that has yet been seen. Yet it has been so thoroughly dropped down the memory hole that even mention of its existence is hard to find.

In the Marxist perspective, the entrance of women into industry was not itself the solution; it merely posed the right questions for solution. It provided the necessary starting-point for struggle. The struggle had to include a fight against the abuses of female labour along with other workingclass struggles. Once one saw the female half of the human race as an integral part of the great social struggle, everything else followed. Just as the Lassalleans had extended their rejection of women's employment to rejection of women, suffrage and political rights, so also the Marxists' approach pointed in the diametrically opposite direction, to the integration of women into every aspect of the social struggle, including the political.

Integration is the key word. As we have seen, this is what basically distinguishes Marxist feminism from Frauenrechtlerei, which divorces the demand for women's rights from the general struggle for social emancipation.

But integration does not mean that the women's question is simply swallowed up under the rubric socialism, any more than trade-unionism is. In general, Marxism seeks to integrate reform and revolution, to establish a working relation between immediate demands and "ultimate" programme; it does not substitute one for the other. There is a contemporary myth, widespread in feminist literature, that Marxism merely announces that, "socialism will solve the women's question" and that's that. It is a very convenient myth, since it is so easy to ridicule that it becomes unnecessary to get acquainted with what the founders of Marxism really advocated and how the Marxist women really organised.

The socialist women's movement led by Zetkin gave strong support to all the democratic demands for women's equal rights. But this movement differed from the bourgeois feminists not only in the programmatic context in which it put these "democratic demands", but also-and consequently-in its choice of immediate demands to emphasise. It viewed itself, in Marxist terms, as a class movement, and this translates into working-women's movement. The immediate demands it emphasised corresponded to the needs of women workers in the first place. The socialist women fought for immediate economic gains for women workers, including legislative gains to protect women workers' interests-just as every militant organisation of male workers did the same. But this simple fact produced a controversy which is as lively today as when it started, one that provides a touchstone of the class difference between socialist feminism and bourgeois feminism.

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