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COMMENT: SHARON SMITH

Marxism,feminismandwomen'sliberation
January31,2013

SharonSmith,authorofthesoontoberepublishedWomenandSocialism:EssaysonWomen's
Liberation,examineshowtheMarxisttraditionhasapproachedthestruggletoendwomen's
oppression,includingitsattitudetowardothertheories,inthisarticlebasedonatalkgivenatthe
Socialism2012conferenceinChicago.

INESSAARMAND,thefirstleaderofthe
women'sdepartmentofthe1917Russian
Revolution,madethefollowing
observation:"Ifwomen'sliberationis
unthinkablewithoutcommunism,then
communismisunthinkablewithout
women'sliberation."Thatstatementisa
perfectsummaryoftherelationship
betweenthefightforbothsocialismand
women'sliberationneitherispossible
withouttheother.

WomenmarchinoneofmanySlutwalkprotestsagainst
sexualviolenceandvictimblaming(ChrisBeckett)

AndtheMarxisttraditionhasfromitsbeginnings,withthewritingsofKarlMarxand
FrederickEngels,stoodfortheliberationofwomen.AsearlyastheCommunist
Manifesto,MarxandEngelsarguedthattherulingclassoppresseswomen,relegating
themtosecondclasscitizenshipinsocietyandwithinthefamily:"Thebourgeoisseesin
hiswifeamereinstrumentofproduction...Hehasnotevenasuspicionthattherealpoint
aimedat[bycommunists]istodoawaywiththestatusofwomenasmereinstrumentsof
production."
MarxdidnotdevotemuchspaceinCapitaltodescribingthepreciseroleofwomen's
domesticlaborundercapitalism.Nordidheexploretheoriginofwomen'soppressionin
classsociety,althoughhedidtakeextensiveethnologicalnotesonthesubjectlateinhis
life.
AfterMarx'sdeath,EngelsusedsomeofMarx'sethnologicalnotestowritethebookThe
originoftheFamily,PrivatePropertyandtheState,whichexaminedtheriseofwomen's
oppressionasaproductoftheriseofclasssocietyandofthenuclearfamily.Whatever
revisionshavebeennecessarytoupdateEngels'book,itwaspathbreakinginitstimeasa
contributiontounderstandingwomen'soppression,particularlysinceEngelswaswriting
inVictorianEnglandwhichwashardlyanageofenlightenmentforthestatusofwomen.
Indeed,TheOriginisnoteworthyforthecarefulattentionEngelsgivestothepersonal
aspectsofwomen'soppressioninsidethefamily,includingtheextremedegradation
sufferedbywomenatthehandsoftheirhusbands,withadegreeofinequalitythathad
beenunknowninpreclasssocieties.Engelscalledtheriseofthenuclearfamily"the
worldhistoricdefeatofthefemalesex."AlthoughMarx'snotessuggestthatthisworld
historicdefeatbegantooccuroveralongerperiodoftimepredating,andleadingtothe
riseof,classsocietytheendresultisanenormoussetbackforwomen'sequalitytomen.
Moreover,Engelsexplicitlyarguedthatrapeandviolenceagainstwomenwerebuiltinto
thefamilyatitsbeginning:

Themantookcommandinthehomealsothewomanwasdegradedandreduced
toservitudeshebecametheslaveofhislustandamereinstrumentforthe
productionofchildren...Inordertomakecertainofthewife'sfidelityand
thereforethepaternityofhischildren,sheisdeliveredoverunconditionallyinto
thepowerofthehusbandifhekillsher,heisonlyexercisinghisrights.
Engelsalsoarguedthattheidealofthemonogamousfamilyinclasssocietyisbasedupon
afundamentalhypocrisy.Fromitsverybeginning,thefamilyhasbeenstamped"withits
specificcharacterofmonogamyforthewomanonly,butnotfortheman."Whileactsof
infidelityonthepartofwomenwerecondemned,hesaid,are"consideredhonorableina
man,or,attheworst,aslightmoralblemishwhichhecheerfullybears."

SOONEthingthatstandsoutfromthebeginningoftheMarxisttraditiononwomen's
liberationisthatwomen'sissueshaveneverbeenviewedtheoreticallyasonlytheconcern
ofwomen,butwereaconcernofallrevolutionaryleaders,maleandfemale.TheRussian
revolutionaryLeonTrotskywrote,"Inordertochangetheconditionsoflife,wemust
learntoseethemthroughtheeyesofwomen."Likewise,RussianrevolutionaryV.I.Lenin
commonlyreferredtowomen'soppressionwithinthefamilyas"domesticslavery."
ThedomesticslaverythatLeninreferredtoiscentralMarxisttheoryonwomen's
oppression:Thesourceofwomen'soppressionliesintheroleofthefamilyasa
reproduceroflaborpowerforcapitalismandinwomen'sunequalroleinsidethefamily.
Whereastherulingclassfamilyhashistoricallyfunctionedasaninstitutionthrough
whichtopassoninheritancetofuturegenerations,withtheriseofcapitalism,the
workingclassfamilytookonthefunctionofprovidingthesystemwithaplentifulsupply
oflabor.
Thisisaverycheapwayforcapitalists,thoughnotforworkers,toreproducelaborpower,
bothintermsofreplenishingthedailystrengthofthecurrentlaborforceandalsoasa
wayofraisingfuturegenerationsofworkersthroughadulthood.Thissetupplacesnearly
theentirefinancialburdenforraisingchildrenandmaintaininghouseholdsontothe
shouldersofworkingclassfamilyunitsreliantprimarilyupononeortwoparents'wages
forsurvival,ratherthanexpenditurebythegovernmentorthecapitalistclass.
Theriseoftheworkingclassfamilyalsobegantosharplydifferentiatethecharacterof
theoppressionsufferedbywomenofdifferentclasses:Theroleoftheupperclasswoman
istoproduceoffspringtoinheritthefamilywealth,whiletheworkingclasswoman
functionstomaintaintoday'sandtomorrow'sgenerationofworkersinherownfamily
thatis,toreproducelaborpowerforthesystem.Engelsarguedthattheroleofthe
"proletarianwife"meant"thewifebecametheheadservant...[I]fshecarriesouther
dutiesintheprivateserviceofherfamily,sheremainsexcludedfrompublicproduction
andunabletoearnandifshewantstotakepartinpublicproductionandearn
independently,shecannotcarryoutherfamilyduties."
Tothisday,thecompetingdemandsofjobandfamilyareamajorsourceofstressforall
workingmothersbutareespeciallysoinworkingclassfamilies,whocannotaffordto
hireotherstohelpwithlaundry,housework,cookingandotherdomesticchores.
Inordertopropupthefamily,rulingclassideologycompelsbothwomenandmento
adheretorigidlydemarcatedsexrolesincludingtheidealofthenurturinghomemaker
forwomen,subordinatetothefamily'smalebreadwinnerregardlessofhowlittlethese
idealsactuallyreflectthereallivesofworkingclasspeople.Sincethe1970s,thevast
majorityofwomenhavebeenpartofthelaborforce,yetthesefamilyideals,andthe
assumptionthatwomenarebettersuitedtodomesticresponsibilitieswithinthefamily,

liveon.Women'scaretakingroleinsidethefamilyreducestheirstatustosecondclass
citizensinsocietyasawhole,becausetheirprimaryresponsibilityandgreatest
contributionisassumedtobeservicingtheirindividualfamilies'needs.
Sounderstandingtheroleofthefamilyiskeytounderstandingwomen'ssecondclass
citizenshipinsociety,answeringbasicquestions:WhydowestillhavenoEqualRights
Amendmentthatwouldguaranteethemostbasiclegalequalityforwomen?Whyare
womenrelegatedtotheroleofsexobjects,subjecttotheapprovalordisapprovalofmen?
Whyarewomentodaystillfightingfortherighttocontroltheirownbodiesand
reproductivelives?Itbeganwiththefamily,buttherepercussionsextendfarbeyondlife
insidethefamily.
Theleadersofthe1917RussianRevolutionunderstoodnotonlythecentralityofthe
familyastherootofwomen'soppression,butalsothedifficultiesinvolvedinrealizing
genderequalitywithinthefamilyasapreconditionforwomen'sliberationinsocietyasa
whole.AsTrotskywrotein1920:
[I]nordertoachievetheactualequalityofmanandwomanwithinthefamilyis
an...arduousproblem.Allourdomestichabitsmustberevolutionizedbeforethat
canhappen.Andyetitisquiteobviousthatunlessthereisactualequalityof
husbandandwifeinthefamily,inanormalsenseaswellasintheconditionsof
life,wecannotspeakseriouslyoftheirequalityinsocialworkoreveninpolitics.
TheRussianRevolutionalsobegantoaddressonbothatheoreticalandpracticallevel
howthestruggleagainstoppressionmustbeintegraltothestruggleforsocialism,arguing
thattherevolutionarypartymustbea"tribuneoftheoppressed."Leninmadethe
followingverysuccinctargumentthatthegoalofrevolutionaryconsciousnessrequires
workers'willingnesstochampiontheinterestsofalltheoppressedinsociety,asapartof
thestruggleforsocialism:
Workingclassconsciousnesscannotbegenuinepoliticalconsciousnessunless
theworkersaretrainedtorespondtoallcasesoftyranny,oppression,violence
andabuse,nomatterwhatclassisaffectedunlesstheyaretrained,moreover,to
respondfromaSocialDemocraticpointofviewandnoother.

THISFORMULATIONisextremelyimportanttounderstandingtheroleofthesocialist
movement,notonlyintheclassstruggle,butalsoinfightingagainstallformsof
oppressionandI'mhopingheretoapplythisformulationtoaddressspecifically
women'soppression,andwhatitmeansboththeoreticallyandinpractice.
WhatLeninishighlightinginthisquotationisthat,whilethecapitalistsystemisbased
upontheexploitationoftheworkingclassandclassisthekeydivisioninsociety,
betweenexploiterandexploitedatthesametime,thesystemofcapitalismalsorelies
uponspecificformsofoppressiontomaintainthesystem.Andthoseformsofoppression
affectpeopleofallclasses,notjustworkers.
Acoupleoffamiliarexamplesfromtodaycanillustratethispointprettyeasily.First,
racialprofiling:DrivingwhileBlackorBrownisnotaproblemthataffectsonlyworking
classBlacksandotherraciallyoppressedpeople.Thetruthisthatdrivingatopoftheline
Mercedesdressedinanexpensivesuitdoesnotkeepyousafefrombeingraciallyprofiled
andgettingpulledoverbythecops.
Let'stakeanotherexample,thistimespecificallyaboutwomen:Theglassceiling.Thereis
asimplereasonwhytheupperechelonsofthecorporateandpoliticalworldarestill
overwhelminglywhiteandmale,andthatisbecauseofracismandsexism,pureand

simple.Wehaveawhite,maleinnercirclerunningsociety,andBlacksandwomenjust
don'tgetinvitedintoit.
Itwouldbewrongforustosay,"Whocaresaboutthoserichsoandso'stheoppression
theysufferisnothingcomparedthesufferingoftheworkingclassandthepoor."That
maybetrue,butwhatLeninisarguinghereisthatchampioningtherightsofallthe
oppressediscrucial,notonlytoeffectivelyfightagainstoppression,butitisalso
necessarytopreparingtheworkingclasstorunsocietyintheinterestsofallofhumanity.
HowdowetodayreconcilethesetwoaspectsofMarxism:theroleofrevolutionariesin
theselfemancipationoftheworkingclassandalsoaschampionsofalltheoppressed,no
matterwhichclassisbeingaffected?
It'seasyforustoembracethecauseofwomenworkersformingunionsandgoingon
strikeanddemandingtherighttoequalpay.Thatstruggleisa"nobrainer"towhichwe
giveourunqualifiedsupport.Butthetruthisthattheworldismuchmorecomplicated,
andsomeofthemostimportantmovementsagainstoppressionhaverisenupasnon
classbasedmovements,includingfeminismandthestruggleforwomen'sequality.
Ithinktheevidenceshows,inparticular,thatthemovementsofthe1960sandearly
1970sincludingthewomen'sliberationmovement,thegayliberationmovement,the
civilrightsandBlackPowermovementswerepowerfulsocialstrugglesthathada
transformativeeffect,bothonmassconsciousnessingeneralandonworkingclass
consciousnessinparticular.
Theadvancesofthe1960swomen'sliberationmovementhavehadalastingeffecton
society,andthatisexactlywhytherightwinghasspentthelast40yearsattackingallthe
gainsofthewomen'smovement.It'swhyfeminismitselfhasbeenunderattackinan
efforttocaricaturefeministsasagroupofbitter,selfish,humorlesswomenwhoeither
don'tlikemenoraren'tattractivetomen,andsospendtheirlivessteepedinavictimhood
mentality,imaginingthattheyseesexismeverywheretheylook.
Soatthispointinhistory,whenfeminismhasbeenundersustainedattackforthelast40
oddyearswithnoendinsight,thelastthingweshouldfeelcompelledtodoisattack
feminism.Onthecontrary,weneedtodefendfeminismonprinciple,asadefenseof
women'sliberationandoppositiontosexism.Whatisthedefinitionoffeminism?The
advocacyofwomen'srightsonthegroundsofpolitical,socialandeconomicequalityto
men.

UNFORTUNATELY,NOTallMarxistshave,atalltimes,understoodtheneedtodefend
feminism,andtoappreciatetheenormousaccomplishmentsofthewomen'smovement,
evenafterthe1960seragavewaytothebacklash.Thisincludessomeinourown
tradition,theInternationalSocialisttradition,who,Iwouldargue,fellintoareductionist
approachtowomen'sliberationafewdecadesago.AndIwouldalsoarguethatourown
organizationhasbornethestampofthistrainingonacoupleofkeytheoreticalpoints,
whichIwanttobrieflysummarize.
First,whatisreductionism?Initspurestform,reductionismisthenotionthattheclass
strugglewillresolvetheproblemofsexismonitsown,byrevealingtrueclassinterests,as
opposedtofalseconsciousness.Sothisapproach"reduces"issuesofoppressiontoan
issueofclass.It'salsousuallyaccompaniedbyareiterationoftheobjectiveclassinterests
ofmenindoingawaywithwomen'soppressionwithouttakingontheharderquestion:
Howdoweconfrontsexisminsidetheworkingclass?
Now,obviouslythiscrudeapproachdoesnotdescribetheIStradition,whichcertainly

sincethe1960swomen'sliberationmovementhastakenwomen'sliberationseriouslyas
centraltothestruggleforsocialism.
However,Iwouldarguethattherewasanadaptationinthedirectionofreductionism,
andatendencytominimizetheoppressionexperiencedbyworkingclasswomen,which
ledtoamistakentheoreticallitmustestinvolvingthequestionofwhetherworkingclass
men"benefit"fromwomen'soppression.IalsowanttomakeitclearherethatIamnot
simplyfingerpointinghere,since,toalesserdegree,weintheISOadoptedasimilar
approach.
Therewasasetofarticlesandadebateinthemid1980sinaseriesofarticlesinthe
InternationalSocialismJournalinvolvingsomeofthekeyleadersoftheSocialist
WorkersPartyBritain,whichbegantotakeuptheissuesIjustdescribed.Ican't
summarizetheentiredebate,butIcanjustlayoutsomeofthekeypoints.
Let'sstartwitha1984articletitled"Women'sLiberationandRevolutionarySocialism"by
ChrisHarman,aleadingmemberoftheSWP(IwanttomakeclearthatChrisHarman
wasoneofthegreatestMarxistsofhistime,whoplayedakeyroleintrainingmanyofus
intheISO,sotheissueIamabouttodescriberepresentsasmall,ifsignificant,detraction
fromhisotherwiseenormouscontributiontoMarxism).Inthearticle,Harmanargues:
Infact,however,thebenefitsworkingclassmengetfromtheoppressionof
womenaremarginalindeed...Thebenefitsreallycomedowntothequestionof
housework.Thequestionbecomestheextenttowhichworkingclassmenbenefit
fromwomen'sunpaidlabor.
Whattheworkingclassmalegainsdirectlyintermsoflaborfromhiswifecanbe
roughlymeasured.Itistheamountoflaborhewouldhavetoexertifhehadto
cleanandcookforhimself.Thiscouldnotbemorethananhourortwoadaya
burdenforawomanwhohastodothisworkfortwopeopleafteraday'spaid
labor,butnotahugegainforthemaleworker.
ItisworthnotingthatHarman'scommentsaboveweredescribingthe"marginal"benefits
menexperiencedwithoutchildrenaddingtowomen'sburdenwithinthehousehold.
AnotherBritishsocialist,JohnMolyneux,respondedtoHarman'sargument,sayingthat
malebenefitsaremorethanmarginal:"Harmantellsusthatthisis'aburdenforthe
womanwhohastodothisworkfortwopeopleafteraday'spaidlabor,'sowhyisitnotan
importantgainforthe[male]workernottohavetodoit?"
Molyneux'sargumentsdrewasharpresponsefromSWPCentralCommitteemembers
LindseyGermanandSheilaMcGregor,andMolyneuxrepliedequallysharply.Thedebate
didnotenduntil1986.LindseyGermanmadeapointofarguing,"[T]hedifferencesand
advantagesthatmenhavearebynomeansmassivenoraretheyeventhesubstantial
benefitsthatJohnclaims.Sothereisnomaterialbasisformenbeing'boughtoff'bythese
advantages."
SheilaMcGregorarguedasifMolyneuxwaswellontheroadtoabandoningMarxism
entirely:"Ifwearetohaveanadequatetheoryofwomen'soppressionandhowtofightit,
weneedtobaseourselvesontheMarxisttradition.John'sposition,thatworkingclass
mendobenefitfromwomen'soppression,isthefirststeptowarddepartingfromthat
tradition."
Alongthewayinthisdebate,thepositionchangedfromwhatHarmanhadarguedthat
malebenefitswere"marginal"totheclaimthatworkingclassmendonotbenefitfrom
women'soppressionatallalongwiththeclaimthateventheadvantagesmenhaveover
womeninsidethefamilyarenot"substantial."


WHILEITistruethatcapitalistheprimarybeneficiaryofwomen'soppressioninthe
familyandofallthesexistgarbageusedtoreinforcewomen'ssecondclasscitizenship
andalsothatworkingclassmenhaveanobjectiveclassinterestintheliberationof
womenIwouldalsoarguethatposingtheargumentthiswayresultsinatendencyto
minimizetheseverityofwomen'soppressionandunderplaytheneedtocombatitinside
theworkingclass.
Asacaseinpoint,comparetheargumentsoftheSWPwithcommentsthatLeninhimself
madein1920inconversationswithGermanrevolutionaryClaraZetkin,severalyears
aftertheRussianRevolution,whenhespokeindetailabouttheobstaclestoachieving
women'sliberation:
Couldtherebeanymorepalpableproof[ofthecontinuedoppressionofwomen]
thanthecommonsightofamancalmlywatchingawomanwearherselfoutwith
trivial,monotonous,strengthandtimeconsumingwork,suchasherhousework,
andwatchingherspiritshrinking,hermindgrowingdull,herheartbeatgrowing
faint,andherwillgrowingslack?...Veryfewhusbands,noteventheproletarians,
thinkofhowmuchtheycouldlightentheburdensandworriesoftheirwives,or
relievethementirely,iftheylentahandinthis"women'swork."Butno,that
wouldgoagainstthe"privilegeanddignityofthehusband."Hedemandsthathe
haverestandcomfort...
Wemustrootouttheoldslaveowner'spointofview,bothinthepartyand
amongthemasses.Thatisoneofourpoliticaltasks,ataskjustasurgently
necessaryastheformationofastaffcomposedofcomrades,menandwomen,
withthoroughtheoreticalandpracticaltrainingforPartyworkamongworking
women.
TheBolshevikParty,bothbeforeandaftertherevolutiondevotedconsiderableresources
foroutreachandeducationofwomenworkersandpeasants,throughitswomen's
departmentwhileatthesametimearguingagainstsexistattitudesofworkingclassmen.
AlexandraKollontai,whowasaleadingmemberoftheBolshevikPartyandoneits
leadingtheoreticiansonwomen'soppression,attendedtheFirstAllRussianCongressof
TradeUnionsin1917,whereshecalledonworkingclassmentosupportequalpayfor
womenworkers.Thisiswhatsheargued:
Theclassconsciousworkermustunderstandthatthevalueofmalelaboris
dependentonthevalueoffemalelaborandthat,bythreateningtoreplacemale
laborwithcheaperfemaleworkers,thecapitalistcanputpressureonmen's
wages.Onlyalackofunderstandingcouldleadonetoseethisquestionaspurely
a"woman'sissue."
SoIwouldarguethattoday,ouremphasisshouldbemoreinkeepingwiththatofthe
theoryandpracticeoftheBolsheviks,inwhichwedonotattempttominimizethedegree
ofoppressionfacedbywomenoranyotheroppressedgroupinsidetheworkingclass,
butrathertomakeaseriouseffortoneveryfronttocombatit.
Furthermore,thetruthisthatfeminismisabroadandmultifacetedmovement,with
manydifferentwingsandmanydifferenttheoreticalfoundations.Tosetupastrawfigure
of"feminism,"basedonitsmostbourgeoisforms,knockitdown,andthenthinkourjob
isdoneintellectuallydoesadisservicetothefightagainstwomen'soppression.Thereare
importantdebatesthathavetakenplacebetweenfeministsthatwehaveremainedlargely
ignorantaboutthatcanbeplayingaroleinadvancingourunderstandingbothofwomen's
oppressionandofMarxismitself.


IAMnotherearguingthatweshouldembraceallwingsoffeminismuncriticallyor
equally.Thereisoneparticularwing,infact,thatweshouldtreatwithoutrighthostility:
bourgeois,ormiddleclass,feminism.Rulingclassandmiddleclasswomendoface
oppression,butthatdoesn'tmeanthattheycanbeentrustedwithpursuingastrategythat
willaddressthesufferingofthevastmajorityofwomen,whoareintheworkingclass.
Onthecontrary,theriseofwomenincorporatemanagementandtheelectoralarenahas
overthelast45yearsinstitutionalizedmiddleclassfeminismintheformoforganizations
suchastheNationalOrganizationforWomenandtheFeministMajorityFoundation,
whichunapologeticallycaterexclusivelytotheneedsoftheprofessionalandmanagerial
classofwomen.
Thishasgivenwaysincethe1990stowhatiscalled"Powerfeminism."Feministauthor
NaomiWolfbestsummarizedthisnewapproachinher1994book,FirewithFire.Init,
shecoinedtheterm"powerfeminism"asanalternativetowhatshecalled"victim
feminism,"whichshesaidincludes"oldhabitsleftoverfromtherevolutionaryleftofthe
1960ssuchasreflexiveanticapitalism,aninsideroutsidermentality,andanaversionto
'thesystem.'"
Wolfadmittedthatcapitalism"doesoppressthemanyforthefew,"butsheargued,
"enoughmoneybuysawomanoutofalotofsexoppression."That,inanutshell,was
Wolf'smessage:Womenshouldembracecapitalismandgetasmuchmoneyandpower
forthemselvesastheycan.Sheargued,bastardizingMarxism,"pendingthe'revolution,'
womenarebetteroffwiththemeansofproductionintheirownhands...Women's
businessescanbethepowercellsofthe21stcentury."
Infact,Wolfembracestheclassdifferencesbetweenwomen,arguing,"Therearegoingto
betimeswhenwomantowomanaggressionisahealthy,evenenergizingcorollaryofour
havingreachedfullparticipationinsociety...Womenaremanaging,criticizingandfiring
otherwomen,andtheiremployeessometimes,understandably,hatetheirguts."
Nosocialistorfeministshouldfeelanycompunctiontoembracepowerfeminismorany
othermiddleclassbrandoffeminism.Bourgeoisfeminismisnothingnew,andthe
Bolsheviks'approachtoitisinstructiveforustoday.Onceagain,AlexandraKollontailaid
outanapproachthatappliestothesituationtoday.Ina1909pamphlettitled"TheSocial
BasisoftheWomanQuestion,"shespelledoutwhytherecouldbenoalliancebetween
workingclassandrulingclasswomen,despiteaspectsoftheirsharedoppression:
Thewomen'sworldisdivided,justasistheworldofmen,intotwocamps:the
interestsandaspirationsofonegroupbringitclosetothebourgeoisclass,while
theothergrouphascloseconnectionstotheproletariat,anditsclaimsfor
liberationencompassafullsolutiontothewomanquestion.Thus,althoughboth
campsfollowthegeneralsloganofthe"liberationofwomen,"theiraimsand
interestsaredifferent.Eachofthegroupsunconsciouslytakesitsstartingpoint
fromtheinterestsandaspirationsofitsownclass,whichgivesaspecificclass
coloringtothetargetsandtasksitsetsforitself...
Howeverapparentlyradicalthedemandsofthefeminists,onemustnotlosesight
ofthefactthatthefeministscannot,onaccountoftheirclassposition,fightfor
thatfundamentaltransformationofsociety,withoutwhichtheliberationof
womencannotbecomplete.
ThereisasecondwingoffeminismthatMarxistsandsocialistfeministsshouldcontinue
torejectoutright,althoughithasnotbeenprominentsincethe1970s:Separatism,which
insiststhatallworkingclassmenshareasystemofpatriarchywithallrulingclassmen

thatoppresseswomen.
Incontrasttothecurrentuseofthetermpatriarchy,whichmerelydescribesasystemof
sexism,separatismgaveprimacytowomen'soppressionoverallotherformsof
oppression,includingracism.
Forexample,theanalysisofrapebySusanBrownmillerinher1975bookAgainstOur
Will:Men,WomenandRape,reachedopenlyracistconclusionsinheraccountofthe
1955lynchingofEmmettTill.The14yearoldTill,visitingfamilyinJimCrowMississippi
thatsummer,committedthe"crime"ofwhistlingatamarriedwhitewomannamed
CarolynBryant,asateenageprank.Tillwastorturedandshotbeforehisyoungbodywas
dumpedintheTallahatchieRiver.
DespiteTill'slynching,BrownmillerdescribedTillandhiskillerassharingpower,using
anopenlyracistclaim:"RarelyhasonesinglecaseexposedsoclearlyasTill'sthe
underlyinggroupmaleantagonismsoveraccesstowomen...Inconcreteterms,the
accessibilityofallwhitewomenwasonreview."
Otherwingsoffeminismhaveamixedrecord.Dualsystemstheoryadoptedbysome
socialistfeministsattemptedtocombineananalysisofbothcapitalismandpatriarchy,
butwaslargelyunabletoovercomethecontradictioninherentintryingtobattlethesetwo
parallelstructures.Onerequiresastruggleunitingmenandwomenworkersinacommon
fightagainsttheircommonenemyincapitalism,whereastheotherrequireswomenofall
classestouniteagainsttheircommonenemyinthepatriarchywhichitselfiscomposed
ofmenofallclasses.
ThirdWavefeminisminthe1990sstrippedthetheoryofpatriarchyofitsprimacyina
consciousefforttogiveequalprioritytothestrugglesagainstracismandforLGBTrights,
whichwasanenormousstepforward.Butatthesametime,ThirdWaversfellintothe
postmodernisttrapofindividualismandaretreatfromstruggleprioritizingchanging
lifestyleandlanguageoverbuildingthekindofmovementsthatcouldchallengethe
system.

THEWINGoffeminismthathasbeengiventheleastattentionisthatofsocialist
feministsandMarxistfeministswhoInowrealizehavemadethegreatestcontribution
toadvancingthetheoryofwomen'soppressionoverthelastseveraldecades.
Thesefeministshavebeengivenshortshriftoneveryfront.Duringthereignof
postmodernism,mostpostmodernistsincludingpostmodernistfeministsrejectedtheir
contributionbecausethesefeministsembracedaunifyingtheory(Marxism).Atthesame
time,theywereignoredbymanyMarxists(includingourselves)simplybecausetheywere
feminists.Onlynowaretheygettingtheattentiontheydeserve.
ThisgroupoffeministshasbeendevelopingandexpandingtheMarxistunderstandingof
therolewomenplayinreproducingtheworkingclassasaservicetothecapitalistsystem.
TakingthebasicconceptsthatMarxlaidoutinCapitalabouttheroleofsocial
reproductionthatis,theprocessesthatsustainandreproducetheentirecapitalist
systemovergenerationsfeministssuchasLiseVogel(whosebookMarxismandthe
OppressionofWomenissoontoberepublishedbyHistoricalMaterialismand
HaymarketBooks)pickedupwhereMarxleftoffandforthefirsttimedevelopeda
sophisticatedunderstandingoftheroleofdomesticlabor,usingMarx'sconceptof
necessarylabor.
IwouldlikealsotomentionthecontributionofMarthaGimenez,whoseapplicationof
Marxismtowomen'soppressionhasspanneddecades.LikeVogel,Gimenezhasplayeda

roleindebatingotherfeministsonmanycrucialissues,includingtheclaimthatMarxism
isreductionistbecauseitregardsthereproductionoflaborpowerasaserviceperformed
forcapitalandnotformen.HereiswhatGimenezhadtosayin2005:
Thenotionthatundercapitalism,themodeofproductiondeterminesthemode
ofreproductionand,consequently,observableunequalrelationsbetweenmen
andwomenisnotaformof"economism"or"classreductionism,"butthe
recognitionofthecomplexnetworkofmacroleveleffects,uponmalefemale
relationships,ofamodeofproductiondrivenbycapitalaccumulationratherthan
bythegoalofsatisfyingpeople'sneeds.Toargueotherwise,postulatingthe
"mutualinteraction"betweentheorganizationofproductionandthe
organizationofreproduction,orgivingcausalprimacytothelatter,istooverlook
thetheoreticalsignificanceoftheoverwhelmingevidencedocumentingthe
capitalistsubordinationofreproductiontoproduction.
ThesefeministshavenotonlyplayedakeyroleinadvancingMarxisttheoryonwomen's
oppression,buttheyremindusthatMarxismisaliving,breathingtheorythatisstillin
theprocessofdeveloping.AnddeepeningMarxistandfeministtheorymeansalso
deepeningandexpandingthepotentialforourfuturepracticeincombattingwomen's
oppression.
Finally,IthinkthatitisworthemphasizingthatweneednotonlyMarxistandfeminist
theory,butalsoMarxistandfeministpracticeinthefightforwomen'sliberation.That
practicemustinvolvethebuildingofarevolutionaryparty,becausewithouta
revolutionarysocialistparty,therecanbenosuccessfulsocialistrevolution.
Whileasocialistrevolutiondoesnotautomaticallyliberatewomen,itcreatesthematerial
conditionsfordoingso.Anditisthroughtheprocessofrevolutionateverystage,from
firsttolast,thatrevolutionaries,inthetraditionoftheBolshevikParty,haveacrucialrole
toplayincombatingoppression,notonlyfromabove,butalsoinsidetheworkingclass.
Thereisnosubstituteforthisprocess.Marxmadethisclearwhenheargued:"The
revolutionisnecessary,therefore,notonlybecausetherulingclasscannotbeoverthrown
anyotherway,butbecausetheclassoverthrowingitcanonlyinarevolutionsucceedin
riddingitselfofalltheoldcrapandbecomefittedtofoundsocietyanew."
Iftheroleofrevolutionariesisindispensable,thenitisalsothecasethatwewillbemost
effectivenotbyminimizingthechallengeswefaceinfightingsexismwithintheworking
class,butbyacknowledgingthemand,onthisbasis,developingastrategythataimsto
throwtheweightoftheentireworkingclassbehindthegoalofwomen'sliberation.