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Issue #1898      December 11, 2019

Taking Issue

Feminism in perspective

The Guardian’s article “Why I’m not a feminist” (#1895 November 20, 2019) received some criticisms that it was too reductive an analysis of the problems of feminism. In this article, I will take some of the points made in the aforementioned article and expand or correct some of the positions in it. Hopefully, this article will show that it is not feminism itself that is the incorrect ideology, but the strains of feminism we have seen in the West as influenced by dominant political ideologies.

First-Wave Feminism

In the previous article, the author presents some valid criticisms of the suffragette movement but lacks any argument of why the suffragettes were predominantly bourgeois. Firstly, it must be acknowledged that the very concept of universal suffrage is bourgeois and its only benefit, according to Engels, is as a “gauge” of the “maturity” of the working-class. Perhaps, at least in the West, feminism was simply in its infancy and was still yet to mature. Lenin also remarked that universal suffrage is simply a tool that will once become antiquated, much like the state. Therefore, although suffrage for white women is ultimately a bourgeois tool for equality, it still represents the political awakening of Western women.

Why did First-Wave Feminism fail to move beyond bourgeois politics? Because the dominant ideology at the time was Social-Democracy and reformism. All Marxists from the period in which the suffragettes were active, wrote and remarked on the “opportunism” of social democracy. In The State and Revolution, Lenin blamed Social-Democracy for spreading the lie that universal suffrage can achieve justice for the working-class. This is further exemplified in the context of feminism by a quote from Rosa Luxembourg’s article Women’s Suffrage and Class Struggle, where she states that the “demand for women’s suffrage is on the order of the day in the political life of the Social-Democracy.” Even in the Australian context, former Communist Party of Australia General Secretary Lance Sharkey remarked on reformism as the prevailing ideology that overran trade unionism and the ALP in its early formation and subsequently into the early 20th century. However, as Marxists we do not dismiss trade unionism as being inherently bourgeois or “undialectical,” so why should we assume the same of feminism? Perhaps if Marxism had been the dominant ideology in the West, we might have seen better outcomes of feminism such as in the Soviet Union or China.

Second-Wave Feminism

The author continues by criticising Second-Wave Feminism or Radical Feminism as being “undialectical.” Although Marxists would agree that the “inherently violent” man is undialectical and that Radical Feminism is incorrect in positioning the primary contradiction between men and women, the rest of the analysis appears to be a strawman argument. Who said that women-only communes, sperm banks, and political lesbianism is the only path in defeating the patriarchy? And are they considered to be a lasting authority on feminism? The article is missing an analysis of what the movement materially sought to achieve, which is reproductive rights.

So, the questions on Second-Wave Feminism should be the following: are reproductive rights a material step forward in bettering the socioeconomic role of working women? Why did Second-Wave Feminism fail? Angela Y Davis, a lasting figure of Second-Wave Feminism and a member of CPUSA from 1969 – 1991, criticised both First-Wave and Second-Wave Feminism in the way Marxists should. Firstly, she noted the racist and bourgeois nature of the suffragette movement as suffragettes would not allow Black women to join their movement. Secondly, she acknowledged that although reproductive rights were a win for white bourgeoisie women, it failed to address the needs of Black and Latin women who had historically experienced forced sterilisation. For example, Black women had been conducting abortions since slavery due to the fear of raising a child under those conditions. Davis sums up the experience of working-class women during Second-Wave feminism’s push for reproductive rights in the following quote from Women, Race & Class:

“During the early abortion rights campaign, it was too frequently assumed that legal abortions provided a viable alternative to the myriad problems posed by poverty. As if having fewer children could create more jobs, higher wages, better schools, etc., etc. This assumption reflected the tendency to blur the distinction between abortion rights and the general advocacy of abortions. The campaign often failed to provide a voice for women who wanted the right to legal abortions while deploring the social conditions that prohibited them from bearing more children.”

Second-Wave Feminism, therefore, failed to take into consideration the needs of working-class and Black women who needed reproductive rights to include both legal access to abortion and material conditions that provide a healthy environment to raise children. Reproductive rights remain both a feminist and Marxist goal, and with the proper framing under Marxist-Feminism, rather than Radical Feminism, women would achieve the material conditions they need.

Third Wave Feminism

Most of the author’s criticism of Third-Wave or Liberal feminism is accurate, valid, and grounded in the experience of most working-class women. For instance, the criticism of “charity” or “advocacy” groups such as White Ribbon doing nothing for the material conditions of women because it is not in their “class interests to do so” is entirely accurate. However, I would say that Liberal Feminism’s main goal is not on changing society with “language and ideas,” but with individualism and representation.

For instance, Hillary Clinton’s campaign heavily pushed the narrative of “first female President” as a form of representation of women. Usually this representation under liberalism is in the form of bourgeois representation. It is the reason why we see Ellen, as a gay woman, receive no consequences for being all buddy-buddy with war criminal George W Bush and liberals swooning over war criminal Barack Obama as America’s first Black President. Another example of liberalism and representation only being a weapon of the bourgeoisie is the way that settler states, including Australia, have centred Indigenous justice as representation and recognition of culture, rather than the material goal of land rights and self-determination. Therefore, it is not feminism that is undialectical and anti-Marxist, but liberalism.

Liberal Feminism, however, is not the same as Intersectional Feminism, which the author argues it is. Intersectional Feminism does not champion representation as the way forward in achieving gender equality but seeks to provide a framework in understanding how different forms of oppression interact and overlap with one another. Intersectional Feminism was originally intended to provide an alternative to White Feminism for Black women but has since expanded to include other forms of oppression such as all variants of racism, transphobia, ableism and, yes, class. It is not “undialectical” to acknowledge forms of oppression other than class. In acknowledging that the work of the proletariat is to overthrow the capitalist state, Lenin noted the existence of peoples that are more oppressed than the working-class themselves; “Only the proletariat – by virtue of the economic role it plays in large-scale production – is capable of being the leader of all the working and exploited people whom the bourgeoisie exploit, oppress, and crush, often not less but more than they do the proletarians, but who are incapable of waging an independent struggle for their emancipation.

This is an admission that yes, there are people who are more oppressed and exploited than the working-class, but that only the proletariat can win out against the bourgeoisie. Therefore, it is not true to say that oppressed people should abandon their own struggles, but that it should be done within or alongside the struggle of proletarians against the bourgeoisie. In the case of feminism, this should be done within Marxist-Feminism.

Marxism and the women question

Although the author is correct in saying that liberation for women, and all oppressed people, can only be realised after a “revolutionary restructuring to free all people from exploitation,” it is not true that this can never be addressed by feminist groups. One example of this falsity is Marxist-Feminist Xiang Jingyu who rejected the idea that the primary contradiction was between men and women, and that women’s rights could only be achieved via revolution. However, Xiang Jingyu’s feminism was necessary in organising women workers, such as the strike in 1924 of 10,000 women workers from silk factories. This is because if the patriarchy hadn’t divided types of work between men and women, then Xiang Jingyu would not have had to wield Marxist-feminism in organising the female contingent of the working-class.

This builds on my next point, which is that it is not feminism that divides the working-class but the patriarchy. Since the proletariat is key in uniting all forms of oppression under capitalism, then the working-class needs to actively oppose all forms of oppression under capitalism. How can the working-class represent and fight for all oppressed peoples, if they oppose them? The author ends the article with Marx’s example of racial divide in English factories to conflate feminism and racism as weapons that divide the working-class. This is a wild misrepresentation of what Marx was attempting to make clear. The divide within the working-class is caused by prejudice manifested by the bourgeoisie and given to the working-class as a tool of self-sabotage. It is not feminism that the bourgeoisie have handed down to us. It is systems of oppression such as sexism, transphobia, racism, and ableism. Conflating racism and feminism as equally to blame in this divide, is irresponsible when one is systematic oppression and the other attempts to understand and overcome oppression.

Conclusion

So, what is the Marxist response to the Woman Question? It is our duty, as Marxist-Leninists, not to reject feminism as inherently bourgeois and undialectical, but to establish Marxist-Feminism as the predominant strain of feminism. This idea extends not only to feminism but to all movements that seek to liberate itself from capitalism and colonialism. However, this is only achievable if Marxism itself is successfully taught and promoted as reformism once was, and as liberalism currently is.

Next article – German marchers reflect the good, the bad and the ugly

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