8. Women of the proletariat: being left behind for a long time, now at the forefront!

To overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and to end exploitation, the proletariat—the only revolutionary class as of yet—will have to put into action its formidable force which is dormant today after centuries of exploitation and alienation. In the struggle to make socialist revolution and destroy capitalism, one of the most exploitative systems in history, […]

To overthrow the power of the bourgeoisie and to end exploitation, the proletariat—the only revolutionary class as of yet—will have to put into action its formidable force which is dormant today after centuries of exploitation and alienation. In the struggle to make socialist revolution and destroy capitalism, one of the most exploitative systems in history, proletarian women are playing a central and decisive role.

Liberating the world from the yoke of class exploitation can only occur by rallying the most oppressed layers of society, those who have the most interest in ending injustice and who will fight to the end towards the liberation of all. Because they are among the most exploited, proletarian women have today a leading and vanguard role to ensure that a revolutionary struggle will be well-led to the end.

We talk about proletarian women because we base ourselves on the materialist conception of class struggle as the motor of history. Women are not a homogeneous group being determined exclusively by their gender; their material conditions are a determining factor in their class-consciousness. Proletarian women constitute one of the most exploited groups in capitalist society. The same is not true, for women as one group regardless of their social condition. Although inside every class, some specific groups are not as well secured as others and suffer of inequalities, prejudices and violence, they are not necessarily placed in direct conflict with capitalism. For us, this conflict with capitalism is the one that determines their aspiration for revolution—that is to say the destruction of capitalism towards communism.

As a theoretical and historical current, bourgeois and reformist feminism rather tried to resolve women issues without taking into account class struggle. The proletarian women who wish to accede to social equality can not expect the bourgeois feminist movement to resolve this issue, although it claims to fight for women’s rights. This movement is “built on shaky bases made of sand” as Clara Zetkin used to say. Neither the solutions nor the strategies it put forward are questioning the power of the bourgeoisie as a ruling class. Its general outlook is limited to reformism, that is to say to win small reforms addressing issues which concern a minority among women—the most privileged—and which are not satisfactory for a majority of them. Its claims stay generally within the legality of the bourgeois and capitalist framework. This fundamental distinction makes that feminism to remain a reformist current, working on a landscape dominated by the bourgeoisie. We reject this bourgeois feminism. We rather put forward a proletarian and revolutionary feminism.

Women’s oppression

Marxism really made it possible to well define the issue of women’s oppression in history, by demonstrating that the social position of men and women are the result of the social relationships which developed themselves throughout history. These relationships have been modified at each step according to the different economic forms of society. The role of men or women is also a social product and it follows more or less quickly the transformations of the society where they live.

All pre-capitalist societies were characterized by a material and sexual division that explicitly established, based on gender, what men and women could do in the public and private spheres. This went with an ideological legitimization of such sexual division of labour based on nature or on supernatural forces. Even though this sexual division of labour took on different forms and developed itself in different ways, it has invariably led to patriarchal relations, which gave to men, particularly men of the ruling class, more resources and a higher social status than to women. They left to women the responsibility for the care and education of the children. Patriarchy relies on patriarchal family. That is the transmission mode of property by which the man, owner of the family wealth, transmits it to one of his male descendants according to paternal filiations. From this definition of patriarchy emerges the fact that all other aspects, ideological and otherwise, are linked to the issue of the family heritage and of its extension and transmission.

Women’s oppression under capitalism

These social relationships based on patriarchy are destroyed by modern capitalism which is replacing them by its own relations of production. With wage-earning being extended and above all, with women participating massively in the labour force along with the development of other capitalist relationships, it leads invariably to rationalization and growth and to the application of logical and scientific patterns of thought and labour. We can assert that the capitalist mode of production, once it reached the imperialist stage, eroded patriarchy by generating individuals who think of themselves as being more and more equal, regardless of their gender and by creating social relationships which encourage the individuals to relate with each others no matter their gender.

Capitalist society today is the result of the productive forces development throughout history and of the class struggles of the past. A good part of social relationships under capitalism (for example, the relations between men and women, the division between manual and intellectual work and between the cities and the countryside) were inherited from that past. But today in the capitalist-dominated society, these social relationships—including the one between men and women—evolve mostly according to the needs of the production mode.

Since the beginning of the class-based societies, the sexual division of labour as well as the women participation in material production; the family organization as it was institutionalized by state; religion, law, culture and ruling ideology: all of that had assigned to women a lower position, characterized by the most diversified forms of domination and oppression. Capitalism is destroying all of these relationships, norms and ideas, because to maintain itself, it must perpetually stir up the social relations of production.

Whereas in countries dominated by imperialism, patriarchy and the institutions that are derived from it play an important role in maintaining women’s oppression and exploitation, the general situation in the imperialist countries is different. In Canada, more than one hundred years of capitalism and class struggle made sure that patriarchy, as a social relationship, does not play a decisive role anymore in the social organization of capitalism. Some old ideas, vestiges of patriarchy, still survive today in capitalist society. These ideas express themselves through the forms of sexism, chauvinism, violence towards women and their use as sexual objects, or in some men’s behaviour still resisting the complete emancipation of women in today’s society. The equality of rights between the sexes in the society and in today’s family, and particularly the legal equality in terms of property (and by extension, heritage) are making sure that for women, capitalism now became the main form of domination. As the Communist Manifesto stated more than 150 years ago: “The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.”

The old idea which stated that women’s position both in the family and society was immutable has collapsed. Family, like all other social institutions is in perpetually changing; it transforms itself according to the evolution of economic relationships and property. Freed from their dependence towards men, women became to be under capital’s domination.

In order for them not to be crushed by competition, the capitalists have to increase production to its maximum. The evolution of modern industry made women labour a necessity being subject to the needs of capital. If the women’s labour is necessary for capitalism to survive, it is just as necessary for the survival of the proletarians. In the past, the earnings of a man were sufficient to ensure the existence of his family; now it is barely sufficient to ensure his own survival. Today, the male proletarian is forced to count on the earnings of the woman; this labour under today’s capitalist conditions could not be considered as a simple appendage of his own work. “[TRANSLATION] …Modern industry, by assigning a decisive part to women and children in the process of production socially organized outside of the domestic sphere, creates the new economical foundation for a higher form of family and of relations between men and women.” (Marx)

Likewise, every advance in the capitalist production accelerates the movement of women towards salaried work by simplifying labour and making part of the workforce useless while deskilling a large majority of workers. But this change in capitalism occurs so it can satisfy its own addiction to profits. Therefore thousands of female proletarians integrating the process of production continue to see their wages declining and their conditions getting worse: part-time work, working hours being fragmented, accelerated pace, etc.

What we see here is not, as many bourgeois feminists are pretending, patriarchy’s influence, but rather capitalist exploitation at its most barbaric and reactionary form: in the capitalist world, something is productive if it produces surplus-value, no regard of the quality of the work nor of the usage of the goods being produced. Although being socially needed, the domestic work being mostly done by women, just as the work in some areas of the economy where women are overrepresented, are done for free or very badly paid because it does not produce surplus-value. The fate of half of humanity comes in this way to meet that of the other: poverty and exploitation for the profit of a small minority of the rich.

Revolution, the only solution!

Women from the proletariat, through their struggles, are more and more convinced that the problem of achieving total equality is not an isolated issue or a “female problem” being separated from other political issues; there won’t be any permanent solution to be found unless we transform fundamentally the society we live in today.

But so the proletarian women can express their anger to its full and fair extent, we, all together as a class, must ensure the conditions that will make it possible. Proletarian women will join an organization that will allow them to organize themselves and to learn through fighting; most of all they will join an organization that will embody the conflict opposing the old world of the capitalist system which must be destroyed and the new world of socialism still to be created. It is left to us and to all women who want to transform in a revolutionary way this rotten society, to elaborate the communist programme for women’s liberation and to gain the support of the proletarian women for socialist revolution.

The next step: A revolutionary proletarian feminism

To radically transform capitalist society, our general perspective is to build a proletarian women’s movement including female workers, those being unemployed or on welfare, single mothers and female migrants, political working-class organizations, women of youth organizations with a proletarian orientation. Such a movement, which allows to mobilize all the power of women in the struggle against capitalism, is needed to ensure that the proletarian revolution will triumph as well as to go forward in the ideological struggle against inequalities, sexism and chauvinism, which still exist among male proletarians right now.

As a revolutionary organization, the RCP is developing its own activities based on one goal: communism. It upholds the need of achieving the tasks which lead to this goal, by applying a correct political line and relying on those who are the most exploited by capitalism. Taking into account the unfavourable situation of proletarian women in the history, this means that women have to return from a long way back to make revolution. We call on this proletarian women’s movement to move towards a liberating change by joining in the general struggle to build a revolutionary communist party and the fight for communism in Canada.

Such a movement will develop around two objectives:

1) To win the support of proletarian women for socialist revolution:

  • through Marxist-Leninist-Maoist education, agitation and propaganda in proletarian milieu;
  • by developing solidarity with the struggles of women in oppressed countries;
  • by encouraging them to join into the RCP;
  • by putting in place measures that will allow women within the party to participate fully in political life;
  • by developing their leadership abilities in the class struggle.

2) To develop the communist programme for women’s liberation

  • by investigating the real needs of the female workers as well as the discrimination and oppression which they live through;
  • by putting forward immediate demands to improve the condition of the proletarian women, including around reproduction issues (free access to contraception and abortion; free daycare; full salary in pregnancy and in maternity leave; etc.);
  • by waging campaigns to fight sexism and chauvinism among the proletariat;
  • by fighting without mercy against the capitalists and whoever exploits women as a sexual object and against violence towards women;
  • by fighting against repression towards prostitutes and by defending sex workers.

We say our feminism is proletarian

…because we base ourselves on a materialist conception of history stating that no one escapes the material conditions which determine our conditions of existence. By asserting this, we clearly demonstrate our opposition to bourgeois feminism as well as to its different petty-bourgeois variations, namely “socialist” feminism and radical feminism.

At the beginning of capitalism, the proletariat united its forces with the bourgeoisie to eliminate feudalism once for all. In the struggle against patriarchy and for gender equality by law—a struggle in which bourgeois women had a progressive role—it was possible to unite the bourgeois, petty-bourgeois and proletarian women’s movements. But once formal equality was achieved, it was predictable that the different women’s movements would divide themselves again. Today, there are infinitely more contradictory interests than common interests to be shared between a bourgeois woman and a proletarian woman.

After the Marxist-Leninist movement collapsed in the imperialist countries, the proletarian perspective on this issue almost disappeared. Along with the decline of the Marxist-Leninist movement in the 1970s and after the big protests of the 1960-70s’, the feminist movement left the streets to install itself in the comfortable and soft academic environment, making most women to forget the methods of their struggle: revolutionary mass actions and revolutionary class mobilization.

While reforms proposed by bourgeois feminism—that is to say feminism which seeks class conciliation—are only satisfactory to a handful of privileged people, communism is struggling for a radical and total transformation of the exploitative and oppressive relationships of capitalism, where each victory for proletarian women is a victory for a huge majority of the women. While petty-bourgeois or idealistic feminism sees a-historical categories as immutable, communism sees the relationships between social classes and the changing-character of these relationships, which allows transformation.

And revolutionary

…because there cannot be a real women’s nor men’s liberation without revolution; because it is impossible for proletarian women to reach total equality if they leave the structure and the system of capitalist production to remain unchanged.