Our conference’s approach to the woman question and the work among women is based on scientific socialism, just as in other areas. It is based on the historical experience of the 1st International, the revolutionary period of the 2nd International, the 3rd International that left a rich theoretical and practical legacy for the communist women’s and workers’ movement, and the historical accumulation of experience from all revolutionary parties and organisations of the working class. Its work among women, guided by Marxist-Leninist theory and this historical experience, is built on concrete analysis of concrete conditions.
The founders of scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, were the first to scientifically study and analyse women’s oppression and a certain kind of household slavery, the socio-historical roots of this oppression and exploitation and the foundations of this situation throughout history. They also scientifically demonstrated the preconditions for the full liberation of women and the link with the proletarian revolution and the establishment of a communist society. Despite the fact that the women’s movement and the struggle against oppression and exploitation and for equal rights for working women had emerged much earlier, and the utopian socialists, primarily Fourier, had made advanced assessments regarding this issue, the women’s movement, especially the struggle for liberation, received a scientific programme and perspective only with Marxist theory, during the formation and the development of the socialist workers’ movement.
In the Manifesto of the Communist Party, which symbolised the birth of communism in 1848, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels analysed the woman question together with its association with capitalist exploitation as well as its relation to the family and marriage under capitalism. They conveyed the outlines of their approach, which they had developed in earlier works. Marx, in Capital, explained in detail why modern industry needed to attract masses of women as well as children into production, and its consequences. Engels’ The Origin ofthe Family, Private Property, and the State became the first comprehensive work to investigate in a scientific manner - among other things - the place of the oppression of women within social development, its foundations and the necessary social conditions for their liberation. August Bebel, in his work Women Under Socialism, analysed in detail the status of women under different social systems and how the oppression and exploitation of working women has been materialised especially in capitalist society. In this work, he focused on the social conditions that would liberate women from monotonous housework that blunts their skills; this would facilitate their participation in social life and production. He also focussed on the necessary social conditions for their emancipation.
The founders of scientific socialism also dealt with the question of the struggle for the emancipation of women, and the problems of the organisation and development of that struggle. Lenin further developed their approach to these issues and the woman question in general, based on concrete analysis of the highest stage of capitalism and the start of a new era, the era of imperialism and the proletarian revolution, and on the tasks faced after the October Revolution, with the seizure of power by the working class and the start of socialist construction.
The Third International, focusing from the beginning on the woman question and the work of the member parties among women, increased this accumulation of experience and left a theoretical and practical inheritance that our parties can benefit from. Furthermore, militants and leaders of the revolutionary workers’ movement, such as Clara Zetkin, Nadezhda Krupskaya and Tina Modotti, also contributed greatly to this experience with their struggle and works.
1. The Transformation of Women into an oppressed gender and capitalism
The oppression of women began during the breakup of primitive communal society, the emergence of private property and classes, the creation of the “the patriarchal family and still more the single monogamous family” (Engels, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State) as the economic unit of society. Child-rearing and the upbringing of children, economic management and other household duties were no longer duties within society but of the family, and within the family a duty particularly of women. As Engels concisely put it, “the wife became the head servant, excluded from all participation in social production” (ibid.). This situation has been reproduced over and over again under the social conditions determined by class society, different forms of private property and the exploitation of labour (slavery, serfdom, wage slavery, etc.). From the first class society of slavery to the present day, in all class societies, women have continued to have a secondary and unequal position within society and the family as the oppressed gender.
The bourgeoisie, as it does with many components of pre-capitalist class societies, takes over the position of woman as the oppressed gender and a kind of house slave, as well as the family structure built on this, and turns it into a component of capitalist reproduction and society. Thus the bourgeoisie gets the opportunity to burden the family and disproportionately women with child-rearing, upbringing and other housework - all components of the reproduction of the labour force. Furthermore, it enables increased capitalist exploitation through lower wages for women for the same job and places a part of the cost of production on their shoulders, through house-work etc. This paves the way for moulding the labour force to the requirements of capitalist production -i.e. flexible work, etc - and gives them the opportunity to drive women out of the labour market into the home when the reserve army of labour becomes too big. Moreover, the oppression of women, and her varying degrees of responsibility for the household, prevents her from taking her place in the forefront of the struggle against the bourgeoisie. Therefore, the bourgeoisie continues to keep women as the oppressed gender and as the main care-giver for children and the elderly as well as other household tasks.
However, with the advances of capitalism and especially modern industry, women and children were drawn into the process of production in increasing numbers, changing the position of women and the old foundations of the family. To the degree that these family relationships survived, they were reshaped based on capitalist relations of production. Under capitalism the family remains the fundamental economic unit within society that takes on the responsibility of reproduction of the labour force - and its components of child-rearing, upbringing and other household tasks. This reality is not changed if birth, child and family benefits are granted, especially in advanced countries. These are introduced due to factors such as the loss of life in wars, the reduced birth-rate and weaker reserve army of labour as well as the struggles of the working class and women. Women take on the responsibility of these tasks to varying degrees in all countries, despite their differences depending on the degree of capitalist development and the power relations between classes, with differences among the main classes and among working class families in each country. The fact that masses of women are drawn into the social production process, due to demands of capitalist production, prevents the completion of even the basic household tasks and forces women and men to increasingly share the burden of these tasks.1
Just like the pre-capitalist ruling classes before it, the bourgeoisie, the ruling class under capitalism, has solved these problems to a large extent with the use of servants, cooks, cleaners, private schools, tutors, wet nurses, etc. As such, freedom from the suffocating burden of household tasks is not the main issue for the movement of bourgeois women. This issue belongs primarily to all labouring women and especially to working class women. For the bourgeois women’s movement, equal rights and some immediate demands that can be achieved under capitalism in order to maintain their domination over working women constitute their highest objective; in their most progressive forms, these demands constitute the minimum objectives of the proletarian women’s movement.
With the elimination of pre-capitalist social structures and their remnants and the drawing of women into production as ‘free labourers’, the conditions developed for women to begin achieving their economic independence and equal rights, although they remained wage-slaves, responsible for child-rearing and upbringing and other household tasks. Moreover, capitalist development does not automatically lead to equality between men and women as wage-slaves in social production (in terms of wages, their position in the process of production, working conditions, etc.).
Although the elimination of feudalism and capitalist development led to important changes in the position of women, even in its most revolutionary stage the bourgeoisie tended to prevent democratic rights and freedoms from embracing the workers. So that equal rights, one of the elements of freedom, was not brought about. When the bourgeoisie failed to block these rights, it tried to limit them to the bare minimum. This tendency of the bourgeoisie is greatly enhanced when workers start using their democratic rights and freedoms, when the workers’ movement reaches a level threatening the hegemony of the bourgeoisie, and with the advent of the monopoly stage of capitalism. Equality of men and women and other rights and freedoms have only been partially won as a result of long struggles.
The content of these rights is determined by the level of the struggle and organisation among women, workers and labouring people. As with most other democratic rights, the defence, enhancement and practical applications of these rights depend on the strength and continuity of organisation and the struggle.
It is still possible to achieve “equal rights under the law” between men and women and other democratic rights and freedoms in capitalist society, despite the above-mentioned tendencies of the bourgeoisie. The fact is that in many countries - primarily the developed capitalist countries - such legislation already exists. Today, just as in the past, ideologues and political mouthpieces of the capitalist system argue that bourgeois society can - and that in developed countries it already has - achieve “equality under the law”. They claim that this has eliminated the subordination and gender oppression of women by men. Legal measures in capitalist countries such as the right to divorce, alimony, compensation, shared ownership of property, the right to work, to vote and to be elected, etc. are used as the basis of this propaganda.
In large parts of the world, primarily in the Asian and African countries, full equality between men and women is still an important demand to be materialised. Women are forced to live in conditions similar to the darkest days of the Middle Ages in many countries that are drawn into civil and regional wars, as a result of fierce inter-imperialist struggles for resources or direct imperialist intervention. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and most recently Syria are striking examples of this. In these countries, as long as their interests are served, the main imperial powers support the most reactionary groups and regimes that trample upon the limited gains of women.
Not only in the underdeveloped and dependent countries, but even in the most developed ones, a large section of women still cannot be part of social production. As they are economically dependent, reactionary misconceptions have developed throughout history and been supported by the bourgeoisie that are widespread among women as well as men, all of which prevent women from exercising their well-earned rights.
Women’s emancipation and their real equality with men cannot be achieved under capitalism, even when equality and other democratic rights and freedoms have been achieved. As Lenin stated:
“The conditions that make it impossible for the oppressed classes to ‘exercise’ their democratic rights are not the exception under capitalism; they are typical of the system. In most cases the right of divorce will remain unrealisable under capitalism, for the oppressed sex is subjugated economically. No matter how much democracy there is under capitalism, the woman remains a ‘domestic slave’, a slave locked up in the bedroom, nursery, kitchen.” ( “A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism,” Lenin, Collected Works, English Edition, Vol. 23, p. 72.)
2. The Emancipation of women and the proletarian revolution
Today, even in the most advanced, democratic and “social” capitalist countries, child-rearing and other household duties are still a burden on women, and the social conditions to secure real equality between men and women and free participation of women in social production and social life are still not established. “For the complete emancipation of women and for their real equality with men, it is necessary to establish social economy and the participation of women in general productive labour. Only then will the woman occupy the same place as the man. ” (Clara Zetkin, “Reminiscences of Lenin on the Woman Question.”)
While drawing women into social production in ever-greater numbers, capitalism also creates the conditions for child-rearing, upbringing and other household tasks to become part of socialised work. This transformation is a necessity and is one condition for the free development of the productive forces.
With child-rearing, upbringing and other household tasks becoming socialised, the family will cease to be the economic unit of society. However, this transformation is impossible under capitalist conditions of private property, in which production is carries out for profit. For women to freely take part in social production and in all aspects of social life, these tasks, principally taken up by women as the oppressed gender, must be abolished, they must be socialized. All factors in the base and superstructure that prevent women from taking their place in society must also be abolished. The main condition for this, as well as for liberation of the working class, is the construction of a communist society in which production will be for the needs of society and the means of production will be owned by society. Therefore women can only become free through the victory of the proletarian revolution and the building of a communist society. The working class is the main social force that can bring down the rule of capital and the bourgeoisie through a revolution, establish social ownership of the means of production and create a classless society.
Half of all workers are women; therefore until women are liberated and men and women are really equal, the working class cannot be free. The victory of the proletarian socialist revolution is the prelude to the building of a classless society, it will free working women not only from capitalist oppression and exploitation but also from gender subordination and all other obstacles that blunt their skills and prevent them from participating in social life and production.
Furthermore, it is not possible to achieve the victory of the proletarian revolution or build a classless, socialist society without the active, militant participation of women. Their discontent and anger at their subordination and their longing for a new world need to be rallied. The link between the working class and the women’s fight for freedom is not onesided; they interact, affect, and strengthen each other; the women’s fight for freedom is a component and the foundation of a worldwide proletarian revolution.
Moreover, the history of class struggle and in particular the struggle for freedom and equality by women has shown that the resolution of the woman question is linked to the struggle for political power between the two main classes under capitalism, namely the working class and the bourgeoisie. This particular nature of the problem and the conditions of its resolution do not contradict but complement each other in the struggle of the working class for a world without exploitation.
A most important characteristic of the historical experience of women’s struggle is that, in their fight for equality they find an increasing numbers of allies from the ranks of the oppressing, dominant gender. Women’s struggle and the demands for equality are echoed within the ranks of the oppressing gender to varying degrees, depending on social class. As the struggle for equality by the oppressed gender grew and developed around its own demands, the support it received was not based on gender but on class. The struggles for women’s rights received mass and practical support mainly from the male workers, particularly the proletarians. The male workers emerged first from the split among the oppressing gender caused by the women’s movement for equality. It was witnessed that the working class, both men and women, was ready to defend and fight for the most advanced demands of the woman question in capitalist society. The reason for this split due to economic, social, political and cultural demands and struggles of the other gender is that the main divisions in society, the relations of oppression and exploitation, are all determined by class.
The history of the women’s movement shows that the most significant gains were made and the highest level of development in terms of demands, organisation and mass support were achieved when the working class was most organised and at its strongest against the bourgeoisie. It is also no coincidence that when women’s rights are attacked and their living and working conditions deteriorate, the working class suffers losses or setbacks.
Child-rearing, education and other household tasks are not main concerns of bourgeois women. Moreover, because socialisation of these tasks requires unconditionally the socialisation of the means of production and the expropriation of the expropriators, the bourgeois women and their movement do not put this on their agenda; they actively fight against it. On the question of the full liberation of women, the bourgeois woman and her movement act as the class they belong to is expected to act. This split within the struggle of the oppressed gender shows that the main division and struggle in society is in fact based on class, and all other conflicts and divisions are in the final analysis determined by the class struggle.
These points are some of the main differences between the bourgeoisie and the working class, between all kinds of petty-bourgeois currents and Marxist-Leninists on the woman question. They are some of the fundamental components of the propaganda activities by revolutionary parties of the working class among women, and of the platform that the communist women’s movement will rise upon.
The fact that the emancipation of women cannot take place without the proletarian revolution and the building of a classless society does not mean that we should not pay particular attention to the struggle for equal rights and for lightening the burden of the tasks mentioned above. On the contrary, the class conscious men and women workers should put forward concrete demands for equal rights and other democratic rights and freedoms to lighten the load on working women and enable them to take part in the process of social production. Furthermore, they should also be the most determined participants and organisers of these struggles. Women’s participation in social struggle should be encouraged; this will widen her horizons and develop her talents; we should also try to develop a culture and practice of sharing this workload among members of working families. All this is a necessity of the relationship between the proletarian revolution and the emancipation of women, as well as to reach out to and mobilise the broadest masses of women, to raise their level of consciousness, organisation and struggle, and to further their unified actions.
The more equal rights, democratic rights and freedoms are secured, the more opportunities for struggles for the workers and labouring people will emerge, and class differences and contradictions as well as the relation between the liberation of women and the proletarian revolution will become clearer. As the household tasks that women shoulder are reduced, working women will have more opportunity to better themselves and take part in social production and social life. In addition, the struggles for democratic and immediate demands are experiences that educate and prepare female and male workers for bigger actions up to the decisive struggle between the classes.
Another important aspect of this question is the fact that oppressed and exploited women, burdened with household tasks, are from different classes. One important and immediate task facing the revolutionary parties of the working class is to ensure that the unified and organised struggles of oppressed and exploited women from different classes develop in close connection with those of the workers movement. Democratic and other immediate demands are platforms to broadly unify the struggles of women in order to create a mass-based women’s movement to the greatest extent possible.
3. The October Revolution and the emancipation of women
The demands of women and their emancipation were among the first measures taken by the working class after it seized state power through the October Revolution. For the first time in history, all the old laws regarding discrimination against women were abolished and women achieved full equal rights with men in all spheres, political, economic, legal, etc.
The October Revolution proclaimed full equal rights for women in all aspects of life and ensured them by law, starting with the principle of “equal pay for equal work”, the eight-hour working day, the protection of women’s work, the rights of divorced mothers and of children. Civil marriage, the right to divorce, special rights for mothers, elimination of laws against abortions, the responsibility of the state in family planning, and laws dealing with prostitution and sexual crimes against women and children were introduced.
Campaigns and various activities were organized to improve the cultural level of women and schools and courses were established to provide or improve vocational training. Motherhood and household activities were recognised as social tasks with the same merit as social production. Steps were taken to bring household tasks into the realm of socialised work. A wide network of child-rearing and educational establishments (creches, dormitories, boarding schools, etc.) were created, enabling women to entrust their children to them so that women could take part in social production.
Among the first steps taken by the Soviet government were the introduction of amenities in neighbourhoods and factories to incorporate women into social life: kitchens, canteens, washing houses, tailor shops, etc. A large number of women took part in official positions in the state, Soviet and party organisations, in organising and management of the distribution of goods for consumption, in establishments protecting mothers
and children, in kindergartens, public kitchens, public washhouses, etc.
The remnants of capitalism (and earlier social systems) in the base and superstructure, which could not be eliminated overnight, as well as the concrete situation of the masses of women, prevented them from fully utilising the growing opportunities provided by the revolution and the process of socialist construction. But the government did not just wait for these obstacles to disappear on their own; it made a continuous effort to overcome them. Lenin regularly drew attention to these obstacles. He concentrated on these and similar obstacles in his discussion with Clara Zetkin. After observing that “the unpolitical, unsocial, backward psychology of these women, their isolated sphere of activity, the entire manner of their life - these are facts,” he continued: “It would be absurd to overlook them, absolutely absurd. We need appropriate bodies to carry on work amongst them, special methods of agitation and forms of organisation. This is not feminism, that is practical revolutionary expediency. ”... “Unless millions of women are with us we cannot exercise the proletarian dictatorship, cannot construct on communist lines. We must find our way to them, we must study and try to find that way.” (Clara Zetkin, “Lenin on the Woman Question.”)
This quote clearly shows that Lenin did not only identify the problem; after stating that women could organise within the party together with men and did not need a separate organisation, he stressed that work among women needs “appropriate bodies, special methods of agitation and forms of organisation” and that this is not feminism; he made concrete recommendations and proposals. During each stage of building socialism in the USSR, first Lenin and later Stalin paid particular attention to actions and policies to secure equality for women in practice. In the USSR and later in other socialist countries, women were encouraged to join the administration at all levels and in all spheres of public life as free individuals, as well as to take leadership roles in all organs of the socialist state and the party.
The emancipation of women and their participation in the leadership of the country grew along with the building of socialism. After World War II this process spread to countries where people’s democracies were formed and socialist construction was started. This also became one of the factors that forced the leaders of capitalist countries to carry out reforms on the woman question.
The Marxist thesis that the emancipation of women and real equality with men is not a utopia but is only possible with the proletarian revolution and the building of a classless society was proven not only by the experience of building a socialist society in the USSR and other countries but also by the defeat of socialism and the reestablishment of capitalism in these countries. The development of the imperialist-capitalist system and the position of women in it prove this thesis every day.
4. The experiences in the struggle and organisation of women
History has witnessed countless resistance and uprisings by women throughout the process of their becoming the oppressed gender. Among other things, many figures and personalities brave enough to oppose the status quo became prominent. Nevertheless, these movements and attempts remained short-lived; they were disconnected and failed to have any lasting impact in terms of the position of women.
History has also shown that women have acted in unity with their class brothers and have fought heroically to win common rights. Women took part and played a key role in the struggles against slavery, in anti- feudal uprisings and revolutions. We cannot forget the role played by women in various struggles in history and primarily against the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Many women died in the struggle against the strict laws of the church and its priests, charged with creating an ideological- religious framework intent on subjugating women and blaming them for all the perceived ills that befell humanity.
The women’s movement and the struggle for equal rights have considerably developed under capitalism and the historic bourgeois revolutions, with the rapid elimination of feudal relations that obstructed the development of society, drawing women into social production in masses. Women were an integral part of all the classical bourgeois revolutions, including the pinnacle of bourgeois revolutions, the French Revolution of 1789. The poor women of Paris, with a strong class instinct, marched into the centre of Paris with demands for “decent work” and “affordable bread”, making a significant contribution in the developing stages of the 1789 French Revolution.
Women from the lower strata were at the front lines at every stage of the revolution. After the revolution, not having been given the vote and having been left out of civic associations, women set up clubs and associations and fought for equality of rights in the public sphere. However, even in the most revolutionary periods of the bourgeoisie, the national assembly refused to grant demands for equal rights, the right to join the assembly and administrations, or the recognition of women’s organisations. Even the right to vote and to stand in elections was not recognized in the advanced capitalist countries for a long time after the victories of the revolution and the seizure of power by bourgeoisie (at different times), even though the working class and women participated in these struggles.
Along with the struggle for equal rights and other urgent demands, the struggle for the emancipation of women and their popular movement emerged when the working class began to struggle as a social class independent of and against the bourgeoisie, when the workers were organising into their own class parties. The European Revolutions of 1848, especially those in France, were the first struggles for power in which the working class participated with its own class demands against the bourgeoisie, although they ended with the defeat of the working class. The development and spread of Marxist theory among the workers were two significant events.
The revolutionary workers movement, from its beginning, was interested in the struggle for the complete and definitive liberation of women, as one of its urgent demands among all the problems put forward. The struggle for the emancipation of women received the greatest support from the revolutionary workers movement. As well, the development of the struggle for women’s emancipation was one of the fundamental elements that led to the advance of the revolutionary workers movement. These two movements formed close links with each other, which allowed them to advance together with each other.
During the second half of the 19th century, the trade union organisation of women advanced in parallel with political and trade union organisation of the working class. The International Workers’ Association (First International), formed in 1864, was the first institution that gave women the right to be members. In September of 1866, during its Congress in Geneva, the German, French and English delegations raised the question of the living and working conditions of women and children in factories as a fundamental problem facing the working class. During this meeting Marx drew attention to the importance and multi-faceted results of women entering into production, against those who defended the reactionary position of traditional roles for women. In the following years, the revolutionary parties and organisations of the working class gave the highest priority to the woman question and especially to work among working women. This was a turn in the organisation and struggles of women. During the French Revolution, the demands for work, bread, freedom and equality led the working women to demand the broadest rights: equal pay for equal work, the eight-hour working day, higher pay in low-paid jobs, more factory inspectors, working conditions fit for women’s health, subsidies for mothers, cooperatives for working women, the right to vote and hold office regardless of race, gender, and the colour of their skin. A women’s movement based on working women, on women workers, which advanced their specific demands and struggles (as well as for equal rights) began to take shape. However, even during this period, the right to vote and be elected, and equal rights in general, continued to be a question that unified the women’s movement from different classes, even if their objectives differed.
The women who took part in the revolutionary movement of the Paris Commune in 1871 demanded “political equality and political rights for women.” Women from worker, peasant, artisan and other backgrounds played an important part in the historical experience of the Paris Commune. One of the first decrees of the Commune was to establish the right of divorce and child support. Thus it tried to eliminate the conception and practices that subjugated women. The “Women’s Committee” was established during the Commune, made up of 160 organisation of working women, with 1800 members, which consciously and bravely defended the demands of working women. They set up “Monitoring Committees of Women” to defend the rights gained through the conflict and organised the “Revolutionary kitchen” for revolutionary communards. The steps taken by the Paris Commune became a historical experience that was fundamental for allowing the position of the working class to advance on the question of women.
The First International Socialist Women’s Conference, held in Stuttgart in 1907, unified the socialist women’s movements ideologically and organisationally. The Second International Socialist Women’s Conference, held in Copenhagen in 1910, approved a resolution on women’s right to vote and stand in elections. At this conference, with Clara Zetkin’s recommendation, a historical decision was made to celebrate working women’s contributions on the 8th of March each year as International Working Women’s Day.
The Third International, founded right after the victory of the October Revolution, gave great importance to the woman question, the organizational work among women and the development of a communist women’s movement nationally and internationally. With the October Revolution and the foundation of the Third International, together with the revolutionary workers movement, the women’s movement and specifically the communist women’s movement, developed. World War II ended with the defeat of the fascist camp and opened new breaches in the imperialist capitalist system. While the revolutionary movement of the working class and of the oppressed peoples in the developed and backward countries advanced, as did the revolutionary movement of women, the old colonial system began to decay. Millions of women took part in the national and social liberation struggles in the backward (in terms of capitalist development) countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America. This progress continued until the second half of the 1950s, when modern revisionism dominated the revolutionary workers movement. In almost all countries a women’s movement developed. The rulers in the capitalist countries, besides utilising all repressive measures, also made concessions and tried to obtain support within the women’s movement in order to pacify their longing for “a new world,” to calm the growing resentment and anger among women and to prevent their struggles from advancing. Meanwhile, the progress towards the emancipation of women continued in the socialist countries, linking the process of reforms that ensured equal legal rights and other urgent demands of women.
The dominance of modern revisionism in the leadership of the revolutionary movement in the second half of the 1950s marked a turning point, with numerous ramifications for the women’s movement as well. This dominance led to the collapse of socialism and the restoration of capitalism in all socialist countries except Albania, causing the greatest historical defeat and the retreat of the working class and its revolutionary movement, as also of the women’s movement.
As with all earlier revisionist and opportunist currents, modern revisionism lowered the level of consciousness, organisation and struggle of the workers movement. Its dominance created a culture not only among backward sections of the masses but also among the advanced sections of the masses and intellectuals, where the fundamental theses of Marxism – the women’s question included – and the historical gains of socialism were questioned. This paved the way for all types of anti-Marxist bourgeois ideologies, from liberalism to social democracy, to develop. The dominance of modern revisionism also led to the weakening of its own influence and fostered the conditions for the bourgeoisie to run its most successful anticommunist campaign and attacks. In addition to encouraging these conditions, modern revisionism, by its further development, became a component of this anti-communist campaign. As in other areas, while the women’s movement, especially the communist women’s movement, was weakening, the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois currents within this movement were becoming stronger.
The devastating results of this defeat were made clear in the early 1990s, when the last vestiges of socialism were abandoned and classical capitalist forms were re-established in the USSR and other socialist countries. At the same time the revisionist parties and currents quickly fell apart, and socialism in the People’s Republic of Albania collapsed. Imperialism and reaction, calling this collapse of revisionism the collapse of communism, conducted its most successful anti-communist campaign in history, making direct use of some elements of modern revisionism. The results of this campaign affected all sections of society from the most backwards to some of the most advanced among the masses and the intellectuals. Since the early 1990s there have been intensified attacks not only on the gains of the working class and peoples but also of women. The “sacred duty of motherhood and their responsibilities towards family” dominated the agenda more than ever.
5. The situation of the working and peasant women and of women of different peoples and nationalities
Since the early 1990s, while inter-imperialist contradictions sharpened and the struggle for the redivision of the world intensified, attacks on the gains of the working class and oppressed peoples have increased. The whole burden of the economic crises, the intensified inter-imperialist competition and struggles for redivision, the increased military spending and interventions, the reactionary local, national and civil wars have been placed on the working classes and peoples. Those who were affected most adversely by all this were women.
Hundreds of thousands of working women in many countries have been the first to lose their jobs as part of austerity politics, due to the present crisis. For example, 51.8% of those who lost their jobs in Europe in the last few years were women. In India, 700,000 women lost their jobs in the textile industry in 2010, 80% of those who lost their jobs in that year were women. This percentage was the same in South Africa; the number of women who lost their jobs were 30,000 in Sri Lanka, 16,000 in Nicaragua and 40,000 in the free trade zones of the Philippines.
Workers who managed to keep their jobs were faced with reduced wages, an increased retirement age, reduction in pensions and loss of many social rights. Women again suffered the most from these losses. The loss ofjobs and increased unemployment has forced many women back into the home, to accept part-time, flexible or insecure work, condemning them to be the lowest paid and in conditions of semi-slavery.
In the process of the reorganisation of work based on part-time and flexible work, etc., the capitalists have attempted to use women workers in the clutches of poverty and unemployment as a support for their objectives. The privatisation of public services and insecurity have become a greater problem than ever for women, as insecurity is not only about losing one’s job and one’s future but also about the elimination of the social rights of working families. The disastrous results of this elimination make life still harsher for the workers and labourers in general but particularly for working women.
Today in many countries, an ever increasing number of women do piece-work from home in areas such as assembly, sorting, packaging, etc. that are really linked to production in big factories or enterprises; however, they are not even seen as workers. The small amount of money they earn is labelled as “supporting the family budget”, and all this is used to legitimise this situation.
Women in many backward countries face not only capitalist exploitation and oppression but also the exploitation of feudalism and sometimes almost of slavery. This dual (and sometimes triple) oppression and exploitation is experienced by women in Asian countries with large populations such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and also in many countries of the Middle East.
a) Women in employment
According to data, women make up two-thirds of the total labour force in the world, meaning that women around the world do more work than men. However, only a quarter of the work women do is paid, while the situation is reversed for men. This means that women’s work is almost free, poorly paid and undervalued.
The population of the world today is 7 billion and almost half of that (49.7%) are women. Under capitalism women enter production in ever- increasing numbers. The average percentage of women taking part in production in the world today is 52%; this average is 62% in the OECD countries; the lowest average is in the Middle East with 18%.
The countries with the highest levels of women in social production are those where the most intense forms of exploitation by multinational companies and monopolies are underpinned by work laws: countries such as Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Philippines and countries in South America such as Nicaragua. The numbers of working women are increasing in countries such as China, Brazil and India. This is due to the nature of capitalism as explained by Marx and Engels in the Manifesto of the Communist Party.
“... the more modern industry becomes developed, the more is the labour of men superseded by that of women. Differences of age and gender have no longer any distinctive social validity for the working class. All are instruments oflabour, more or less expensive to use, according to their age and gender.”
According to 2011 data, on average in the world women receive 73% of men’s pay for the same work. On the other hand, when job opportunities are studied, women are employed primarily in less technical and low-wage areas, injobs that are “complementary” to men’s and therefore receive “complementary wages”. This explains the fact that women are the majority in the service sector, in the food and textile industry and in parttime jobs where they work under conditions of slavery; the economic dependency of women is perpetuated. This structurally determined pressure guarantees that the family functions in accordance with the needs of capital as well as the reproduction of the labour force.
Reports show that more than half of the world’s labour force, especially women in the poorest countries, work in precarious conditions and without job security, in ever deteriorating conditions. Parallel to the increase injob insecurity, illegal work and unemployment, there is an increase in the number of children and youth working in insecure jobs. The data on this is disguised, since it is against the law in many countries. Moreover, home-based work has become a pillar of flexible and unregistered work, due to the increase in this type of work in the last few decades.
According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), home- based work represents 10% of the non-agricultural workforce in the world and is made up almost entirely of women. This ratio is calculated at between 25% and 60% in the textile and garment sectors of “developing” economies. This is extending as well to modern sectors such as the automobile and electronics industry. The migration from rural to urban areas and from the dependent countries to developed capitalist countries also has a profound effect on the increasing number of women in the labour force. It is estimated that 49% of migrants are women who are made to work for extremely low wages under conditions of slavery.
b) Violence against women
The imperialist policies of pillage, plunder and the civil and regional conflicts and wars caused by these policies, lead to the murder, rape and trafficking of tens of thousands of women, which also turns hundreds of thousands of women into migrants and refugees.
Millions of women are fighting for their lives due to general harsh economic, social and political conditions or due to the barbarism of traditionalist and racist policies or religious customs (such as genital circumcision). Research shows that violence against women increased to a disturbing degree in all countries, including the most democratic and developed ones.
Even more striking is the fact that violence is also increasing against middle class and educated women. Violence against women stands at 52% in Denmark, 47% in Finland and at 46% in Sweden. These high levels are explained by the fact that women are more likely to report violence in these Northern countries.
According to a report by the UN, 70% of women worldwide experience sexual violence at least once in their lives. Although violence against women is widespread and increasing worldwide, effective legal, social and economic and political measures to prevent this are not being introduced. What is worse is the fact that a strong and unified struggle against this violence has not materialised. Practices driving women into slavery or leading to their stoning or murder are being justified using religious arguments, especially in many countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia.
Because of the conservative and religious policies in many countries, women have been losing some of the rights they had gained through struggle. Under the oppression of religion and tradition, women are not only locked into the home, but they work from home and become a source of cheap labour. This also consolidates the patriarchal family and society, bringing with it more violence against women.
The increased level of violence against women and the struggle against it has led the UN to declare the 25th of November as the “International Day of Struggle against Violence against Women” at their General Assembly in 1999. This was the date of the cowardly murder of the Mirabal sisters by the Dominican military fascist dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo. Violence against women has continued to increase in the following years.
It is becoming increasingly important to fight against this violence around the world, to expose all the practices and norms that legitimise the murder and subjugation of women, to fight against subjection to men and the reactionary religious and cultural practices that deepen and encourage this subjection.
c) Women are deprived of basic rights
Another sign of the unequal position, subjugation and poverty of women is access to basic rights such as food, shelter, health and education. Of the 1,300 million people living on less than $1 a day (absolute poverty level), 70% are women. According to estimates, 60% of those suffering from malnutrition are women and girls. The countries with the highest levels of poverty are also those with the greatest inequality between the genders.
Of all the “displaced people” in the world, 80% are women and children. 80% of the 800 thousand people trafficked every year are women and girls. The issue of child brides is still prominent in many countries. A girl who marries early is denied education and the right to a healthy life and faces more intense sexual discrimination. As child marriages are usually illegal, the nonexistence of such civil marriage prevents girls from benefitting from the legal rights of a wife. As child brides usually cut their education short, they are denied their right to education and the opportunity to participate in production and work. The highest levels of child marriages are found in East, West and Central African and South Asian countries: 61.9% in Niger, 74.2% in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 53.7% in Afghanistan and 51.3% in Bangladesh.
It is also women who suffer most from problems of accessing education: 551 million of the 774 million illiterate people in the world are women; 54 million of the 72 million children not attending school are girls. Likewise, 70% of single-parent families supported by mothers have no access to clean water or sewers and live in squalid conditions; 75% of these families do not own their own home. The number of women dying in childbirth due to lack of access to professional care is increasing. 71% of HIV-AIDS sufferers are women.
In many countries, especially in Central Africa and South Asia, female genital mutilation (FGM) continues to be a big problem in terms of women’s health, reproduction issues and violence against women.
According to the UN 2012 report on political participation, on the average women make up 19.7% of parliamentarians in the world. Scandinavian countries are in the lead with 42% representation by women, followed by North and South American countries with 22.6%. In the EU countries, the number of male parliamentarians is three times that of their female colleagues.
6. Imperialist efforts to control and steer the women’s movement
The ruling classes and cliques of the imperialists, and in all countries, are running a coordinated, multi-dimensional campaign worldwide in order to pacify the growing unrest and discontent among the masses of women; they are trying to prevent this from turning into a tide of awakening and struggles; they do this through creating meaningless aims to demoralize them. They create huge funds to influence the universities, charities, religious institutions and use all means of propaganda, as well as NGOs such as unions, women’s organisations, etc. supported by these funds. The major imperialist institutions such as the UN, World Bank, IMF and EU are the international directors and coordinators of this campaign internationally.
The imperialists are investing, through the NGOs that they fund, in international actions and projects that target working class and peasant young women as well as indigenous and migrant oppressed women. They aim to foster false hopes among them that their living conditions will improve; they try to prevent their unification with the revolutionary movement of the workers. Working women and women from the popular strata are faced with a violent ideological attack that tries to disorient them and encourages them to accept women’s place as commodities under capitalism, and to establish concepts and practices that individualise and alienate women.
In the last few decades, feminist, reformist and social-democratic organisations of all types have been carrying out their actions in the arena of political decision-making, supported by governments and capitalist states; they aim to make them accept reforms which in essence do not harm or affect the interests of the imperialists.
The imperialist mouthpieces of today - governments, national and international institutions - are developing specific policies and strategies. They single out certain demands and slogans that the women’s movement and organisations fought for and the masses adopted, depriving them of content in a shallow demagogic campaign. They carry out campaigns and projects that reduce the demand for equality of the genders to a liberal slogan of “equal opportunities” and the right to secure work to a slogan of “encouragement of women’s entrepreneurship”.
The UN announced years and decades dedicated to women. A report by the World Bank in 1990 announced that women’s labour would become more valuable, and that equal opportunities and women’s “emancipation” would be achieved. The same institution declared 2012 as “the year of women” with a slogan “equality increases profit”. Although they improved opportunities for educated women in the upper-middle and upper classes (quotas of women in board rooms, holdings,2 etc.), for women in the lower strata it meant lower wages, work insecurity and combining production with the full burden of housework.
While neoliberalism decorates its display with talk of equality of genders, in reality it gave no options to working women who are struggling every day for their concerns. Each day more women realise that capitalism only offers poverty, unemployment, insecurity and the prospect of being crushed by the devastating consequences off neoliberal political decisions.
7. Women’s tendency to fight and their current perspective
Working women have been at the forefront in the developing struggles, mass demonstrations and marches, in strikes and acts of resistance in many countries against the usurpation of rights, war policies, intensifying oppression and exploitation. Women have joined in their masses in the popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as in general strikes, demonstrations and marches against austerity packages imposed in many countries, including Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy, in the popular uprisings that broke out in Turkey and Brazil in 2013, in the democratic national movements in Nepal, Philippines, Turkey and Syrian Kurdistan.
In almost all continents and in many countries, a great number of women’s mass movements have fought for political rights and freedoms, for economic and social demands, for the protection of nature and the environment, against increasing violence against women and their subjugation. Women are participating in their masses in the developing struggle against the exploitation of the natural resources by the imperialist monopolies and against the disasters that these cause, for the recognition of indigenous and migrant peoples’ rights. All this shows a wealth of experiences of struggle accumulated by the workers and labourers in general and working women in particular.
Women’s struggles and organising efforts as the oppressed gender, for democratic rights and other immediate demands, are growing and spreading. Furthermore, working women are joining this struggle in ever increasing numbers, and are having a greater influence. This broadens the basis for women’s struggle primarily for equal rights and other democratic rights, and demands to unite with the struggle of the workers, which is strengthened by this union and also supports it. Despite these positive developments, the women’s movements and their organisation on a world scale seem weak and scattered.
In most countries the women’s movement and their organisations are disconnected from the struggles of workers and they have not managed to overcome their bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and intellectual limits. Some of them have no intention ofjoining the working women’s movement and lack that potential. Some try to exist with funding from the ruling capitalist classes and from national and international institutions controlled by the imperialists. The majority of their activities are determined by conditions they accept in order to secure these funds. In many countries, there are other women’s organisations and circles that try to reach, organise and mobilise the masses of women and which have been successful to varying degrees. Nevertheless, the reality is that, with some exceptions, these groups still have limited influence on the masses of women, failed to unite them and do not really represent them.
The situation of the women’s movement, its level of consciousness, the level of organisation of the workers movement and its connection with its class Party, which represents the level of this consciousness, are directly linked to their action as a social force independent of and against the bourgeoisie. Starting in 1990, the member parties and organisations of the International Communist Movement - rebuilt in the struggle against imperialism, revisionism and opportunism of all types - are fighting against the intensified attacks. Although new participants have led to their strengthening and mutual development, these parties and organisations have limited influence within the movement of workers and labourers. Therefore, despite the more advanced position of some parties, their work amongst and influence on women is also weak. To overcome this situation, making use of the experiences of the International Communist Movement we need to review our approach and our practice of work among women in order to quickly eliminate all weaknesses.
8. Strengthening the work among the masses of women
The capitalist-imperialist system and bourgeois society reproduce and develop the conditions for women to join in the struggle for their specific demands and unite their struggle with that of the labouring people. The fact that the masses of women are continually joining in the process of social production increases the number of women among the working class and labouring people. The problem of the emancipation of the oppressed gender thus becomes the problem of the emancipation of working women. All this shows the importance of the work of the parties of the working class in working with women and putting forward the need to expand this work. To take full advantage of these opportunities, we need to:
a) Organize constant work among women, starting with women workers as an urgent and important responsibility of our parties. We cannot for any reason postpone this work, using all means necessary, and we must start with the leading bodies assuring continuous work alongside women.
b) Although work among women is the responsibility of all Party organs, a condition to ensure a continuous work in progress is to form within the Party, from the leading committees, special bodies to organize work among women. To the extent that the Party organizations are not sufficiently developed to provide these specific organs, people responsible for that work should be designated. Another main condition is to dedicate specific tools towards women such as newspapers, magazines, leaflets and other materials of agitation and propaganda. But the Party’s work should not be limited to the use of these tools; the entire party must be mobilized effectively and the propaganda media should also be widely disseminated among women. All this is necessary not only to ensure continued work among women, but also to raise the level of work of the Party in order to be able to advance in the organization and struggle, with a patient work that never loses sight of the particular situation of women. They have been oppressed for millennia, considered the lesser gender, always forced to do the tedious household chores that limit their abilities, due to the difficulties that domestic chores causes to their mood and the revolutionary potential they possess. The progress and influence of our parties among women depends largely on this.
c) One of the main tasks of the revolutionary party of the working class is to develop, nationally and internationally, a communist movement that fights for the building of a classless society, for the complete emancipation of women, which is based particularly among working women, which is not content with equal rights and other urgent demands and does not divide the women’s movement. Since the communists, men as well as women, are organized in the Party, there cannot be differences between them. A specific organization of communist women, or even that the movement of communist women appear as a separate organization, is not necessary. To address the problems of the women’s movement, particularly the work of the women’s communist movement, and the problems of that work, to exchange experiences, etc., one can organize conferences of communist women with good preparation. The development of a communist women’s movement is not contradictory, nor does it weaken the organization and development of a women’s movement that groups together women of different classes and strata in society. On the contrary, it strengthens and ensures the continuity of its unity and progress with a coherent line.
d) We must train cadres among women in the leading organizations and committees of the Party, helping them to take on important responsibilities and assume leadership positions in the leading bodies. We must fight against backward prejudices and customs that hinder the realization of this task.
e) The party’s work among young people is of decisive importance. The youth are more receptive to revolutionary arguments and concepts. It is vital that young people participate to support the women’s movement, develop their ability to fight, etc. The imperialists and the ruling classes take into account the characteristics of youth and attach special importance to winning them over. Their ideological attack on the youth is continuous. The “bourgeois life-style” influences many young people. The ongoing work that the party must carry out, taking this reality into account, cannot be separated from the generations that must be constantly renewed.
f) We must carry out a great effort to attract women from the intelligentsia to the movement of working women and involve them in our movement. We must carry out ideological work against bourgeois concepts and points of view, against the petty-bourgeois and particularly the revisionist, reformist and social-democratic feminist currents that exist in the women’s movement. We must encourage women, particularly young women, to understand Marxist-Leninist theory, especially the problems of the oppression of women, the role of women in social transformation and the women’s movement; to ensure education work to eliminate the deviations around this problem.
g) Although capitalism develops multiple ties between the countries, united as links in the same chain of the capitalist world economy, countries are not equal in terms of their place in the capitalist economy, or in their level of development, or in their social structures. It is a situation which results in diversifying the tasks of our parties on the social situation of women and their urgent demands. Therefore, the revolutionary parties of the working class must take account the specific situation in their country in working with women and must carry out a consistent work. One consequence of this is that the process of forming organizations capable of broadly uniting women, social groups and platforms, and ways that may take place, will change depending on the country and time.
h) To achieve the broadest possible unity of women of different classes and strata, it is necessary that the women’s movement develop a unitary platform. This should be based on democratic demands, particularly for equal rights and other urgent political, economic and social demands. Only with such a platform can one build an organization capable of uniting women.
i) The development of the process of centralization of capital and production inevitably leads to greater possibilities for the women’s struggle for emancipation to progress as an international movement. The tendency to promote international relations among women’s organizations and circles in order to carry out collective work is also developing.
Our Conference, the member parties and organizations, should increase our work to develop the women’s movement internationally with correct orientations and platforms, as a united movement.
Document approved by 21 parties and organisations participating in the 20th Plenary Session of the ICMLPO. Turkey, October 2014.
1. The question of how to deal with the fact that the reproduction of the labour force; the way childcare, the upbringing of children and other household duties falls, in relatively different levels, on women (whether it can be considered a different type of exploitation, in addition to exploitation in the production of commodities) was discussed at the conference. Different opinions were expressed and a consensus was not reached. Our article needs to be clear on this issue. This becomes evident, especially considering that some feminist theories cause confusion on precisely this matter.
It cannot be questioned that women in productive work who are forced to do varying degrees of housework are working both at home and the workplace, in a way doing a ‘double shift’ and that they face double oppression and suffering. Nevertheless, the burden of household tasks on women’s shoulders should not be approached as a second type of relationship of exploitation, besides capitalist exploitation, and we should refrain from using the concept of double exploitation. Therefore, it will suffice to talk about household tasks as a component of the reproduction of the labour force - as it also involves the reproduction of workers - and that women are burdened with it by capital and that it constitutes a great torment that wastes their physical and mental energy. The women’s question is discussed primarily by feminists but also by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois currents and political circles and academicians, not only in direct relation to the demands and aims of the women’s movements, but also in relation to the scientific socialist theses and attitudes and the experiences of the building of socialism. One topic of intense discussion is how, despite differences between classes, women shouldering the responsibility for childcare, upbringing and other household duties and women’s subjugation should be approached; and in relation to this whether working women face double exploitation as well as double oppression. The conclusion of double exploitation as well as double oppression is based on the thesis that women are exploited in the process of the reproduction of human beings, and especially the reproduction of the working class, as well as through capitalist exploitation.
Some of the above-mentioned circles put forward the thesis that - besides historical exploitation by slavery, feudalism and capitalism - there is another type of exploitation developed outside the realm of direct production (or of sectors linked to production), one that takes place at home where one gender exploits the other. They try to spread the idea that Marxism takes up this question in a one-sided manner, a manner that “reduces” it to a class or economic question, that Marxism does not see or want to see this second exploitation. They try to spread the idea that the experience of the building of socialism did not and could not solve the woman question. Some other non-feminist circles use the concept of ‘double exploitation’ in relation to women receiving much lower wages than men; this situation should be identified as the super-exploitation of women.
It is true that some circles of women truly dedicated to Marxism and the liberation of the working class are affected by the above-mentioned perspectives. An ideological struggle that refrains from general and crude expressions, which is convincing, scientific and not rhetorical, but based on facts that can disprove their arguments, stands as a duty for the class-conscious workers and their organisation.
2. Holding: A group of enterprises that form a financial group, organized around them, which control the rest due to participation in their shares [Dictionary of Economics].
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