The Oppression of Women and Communist Revolution
Comunismo no.2, May 1979
La Gauche Communiste no.1, Janvier-Mars 1981
1. Origins of the Slavery of Women
1.1 - The First Division of Society into Classes
1.2 - The Subordination of Women in Class Societies
1.3 - No Contrast between the Prostitute and the Legitimate Wife
2. Birth and Death of the Family
2.1 - The Bourgeois Family
2.2 - The Reality of the Proletarian Family
2.3 - Homeland and Family: Cornerstones of Social Squandering
3. The Modern Feminine Question
3.1 - The Utopia of Inter-classist Feminism
3.2- The Condition of the Proletarian Woman
4. The Party in the Face of Democratic Claims
4.1 - The Right to Vote
4.2 - Freedom of Divorce
4.3 - The Right to Abortion and the Atrocity of Illegal Abortion
4.4 - Only Communism will Free Women’s Full Individuality and Sociality
5. Convergence of the Class Struggle and the Struggle for the Emancipation of Women
5.1 - Creating a Mass Movement Under the Leadership of the Communists
5.2 - To Hurl Women’s Claims Against the Bourgeois State
Appendix: Theses of the 3rd Congress of the Communist International on Methods and Forms of Work among Women (July 1921):
Appendix: Socialism and Feminism, from L’Avanguardia of 27 October 1912
During the events of 1952, which we characterized at the time as “bird-brained”, the magazine Prometeo and the newspaper Battaglia Comunista, the standard bearers of the Left, were torn from our hands. We had to concentrate all our efforts on the newspaper which was transformed into a new magazine: Il Programma Comunista. As a result of some more recent events, which, in order to be always “bird-brained”, were more debased, was also removed from our hands Il Programma, which for twenty years had represented the programmatic and theoretical continuity from the Left. During these two decades, a colossal work, both in quality and quantity, was produced by the small party, which can be compared with a just Communist pride to that of the Bolsheviks. It is with another press organ, Il Partito Comunista and with smaller forces that we had to continue the constant battle on all fronts with the specific intention to maintain the small party on the revolutionary road, even if it had become even smaller as a result of the “dirty split”, to quote Lenin, of November 1973.
To continue the duty of international diffusion of the revolutionary doctrine that has already been accomplished in France by the periodicals Programme Communiste and le Prolétaire, before they suffer the fate of Programma, we resume with this issue the publication in French of the theoretical review of the party, which, by its very name, wants to claim unquestionable perfect continuity with the monolithic Marxist program, a continuity of struggle which, since the degeneration of the Third International, can be traced back only by taking up the tradition of positions and theses supported by the Communist Left.
It seems essential to repeat that the journal will not contain “signed” articles and texts, according to the bourgeois model. Even if it is the necessary reprinting of our old and our latest party texts, this can not satisfy the ambitions of an “author”.
Even the enemies of communism and above all the treacherous parties, who believed they had freed themselves from the necessary theoretical work, must settle their scores with the principles, the purpose, and the program, even if it is to deny them. We consider it a communist victory at the theoretical and doctrinal level that these dirty parties, which dare to call themselves with the glorious names communist and socialist, should be forced to abandon even the Marxist lexicon and express themselves with the vulgar and indecent vocabulary of the bourgeois classes, typical of the “petty‑bourgeois” academic “intelligentsia,” reduced to skepticism and possibilism, which reflects its constant availability to howl with the wolves.
We claim as a victory of our revolutionary school that the most obscurantist forces of this capitalist society like the Catholic Church – under the inescapable pressure of economic, social and political contradictions, which are powerful accelerators of the dissolution of the present society, in anticipation of the rebirth of the conditions of a new revolutionary assault of the international proletariat – will resume with intransigence and determination their anti‑proletarian, anticommunist and anti‑revolutionary doctrines, and the possessing classes will utilize them to defend the “values” behind which their privileged class interests hide.
But theory is a weapon and it is also a weapon for our enemies. It is an instrument of war, not of arbitration between classes. Revolutionary Marxism is the doctrine of the proletariat, not that of other classes, still less that of undifferentiated humanity. It is a special doctrine, at the same time passion and science. It is the past, the present and the future of humanity that lives. It is communism.
The following text and the title given to it do not call for further comment. One could not propose only an essay on the millennial oppression of women in class societies because the oppression of women can be solved only in classless and stateless society, by communism.
This is how we propose to the reader a text written by several authors of different ages who, in the historical arc of more than a century, represents the organic and univocal interpretation of the feminine question according to the tradition of and the method of revolutionary Marxism, invariant in time and space, until the day when there will no longer be a single woman crushed by the double oppression to which the regime of private property subjects her.
It is the demonstration that we have nothing to invent, to discover, to propose on the question, that the general theory of the proletarian class does not already know.
But it must be emphasized that this theoretical and historical knowledge, although necessary at first, is not enough, and would be reduced to purely academic remarks if we were not to draw indications of struggle, of program and of political action to translate this dialectic of knowledge into an operational and dynamic dialectic, into a tactical party action.
The events of the last 50 years highlight the forms and means imagined by the different bourgeois, democratic, fascist, and then again democratic, regimes to perpetuate this ancestral oppression in our capitalist and of private property society. In essence, the so‑called recognition of the parity of the two sexes is, in the best of cases, to tend towards an equal economic and social exploitation of the working man and the working woman.
To the oppression of woman as a woman, is added for the proletarian woman the oppression of the wage labor which transforms more and more, so to speak, the woman into “man”. If wage labor constitutes the aggravation of female exploitation, it is dialectically the condition of the real liberation, that is, the social liberation of women, of all women.
The capitalist transformation of the economy offers women the social and political means to emancipate them through the revolutionary struggle of the proletarian class for communism. It is this fundamental and primordial meaning that this text intends to demonstrate and propose.
Some have thought it right, in the purest opportunist style, to cleverly maneuver into the ranks of the organizations of feminism, to the point of endorsing hypocritical little reforms, making it seem a Communist maneuver just because it was proposed by so‑called communists. It is not to forget that one ceases to be communist from the moment one does not behave as a communist. The class political party, with all the limitations imposed on it today by circumstances, made difficult by a vast and vigorous redeployment of forces, is telling women to demand their total social liberation. The demand of proletarian women, today, are not legal recognition, just to grant them titles of property, which interest only the bourgeois woman, but material conquests, the strength of which rests in all cases in the use of methods and organization of the struggle of the working class and in the class mobilization.
The most shameful and lamentable aspect is given to us by the former communist parties, which has become national and counter-revolutionary since they have passed into the camp of the defense of the bourgeois State. These parties make every effort to preserve the bourgeois family institution, calling it “democratic”. An adjective was enough to solve the problem, the democratic family opposing the “traditional” family where the woman is “democratically” enslaved. To the woman, the bourgeois world would offer the same false solution that was imposed on the working class: the democratic dictatorship of capital instead of the fascist dictatorship.
The emancipation of women necessarily passes through their association with the struggle of the exploited. The cause of the liberation of the female sex is indefensible if it is isolated from that of the destruction of any form of private property over the means of production and distribution, without the conscious and voluntary participation of women in the organization and realization of the collective life, without communism. On the contrary, bourgeois feminism foresees and works for the solidarity of the proletarian woman with the bourgeoisie, excludes a priori the appeal to the methods of the class struggle, and gives the illusion to oppressed women that it is possible outside the class struggle to achieve, with the sole mobilization of women against men, rights and social equality, which in this society are only enjoyable by the cramped minorities of women of the upper‑middle class including an intellectual minority, which rise to the level of men of their own class, thanks precisely to the exploitation and degradation of the great mass of women. Any concession to feminist ideology results in the strengthening of the chains with which the current regime binds the vast majority of women.
Without the mobilization of women fighting for communism, the clash against capitalism is impossible, and victory impossible without the social and individual liberation of women; all steps forward towards communism, for women as for men, goes through the destruction of the oppression of one sex by the other because the oppression of one sex brutalizes even more and makes conservative the other. It is the opportunist parties of the democratic-bourgeois regime that are today the main obstacle to women’s engagement. By fighting against these parties, and therefore against the current regime, women are given the opportunity to choose their side in the social struggle, in the conquest of true political emancipation, in the sense that it is necessary to associate their struggle with perspectives of the revolutionary communist party, in view of the final struggle against the capitalist system, for the overthrow of the bourgeoisie and the destruction of its State, for the seizure of power by the proletariat and the dictatorship of the proletariat with a view to abolishing capitalist relations of production and the transition to Communism.
This is a text of struggle, a war‑cry against an enemy world, it is a text that only the party of the class can spread and not only to the proletariat but to all the oppressed of this ignoble society. It is an undemocratic and anti‑capitalist call that comes from the program of the Communist Left, a complex vision of the general upheaval toward the future society.
August Bebel,Woman and Socialism, 1892:
"We are living in an age of great social transformations that are steadily progressing. In all strata of society we perceive an unsettled state of mind and an increasing restlessness, denoting a marked tendency toward profound and radical changes. Many questions have arisen and are being discussed with growing interest in ever widening circles. One of the most important of these questions and one that is constantly coming into greater prominence, is the woman question.
"The woman question deals with the position that the woman should hold in our social organism, and seeks to determine how she can best develop her powers and her abilities, in order to become a useful member of human society, endowed with equal rights and serving society according to her best capacity. From our point of view this question coincides with that other question: in what manner should society be organized to abolish oppression, exploitation, misery and need, and to bring about the physical and mental welfare of individuals and of society as a whole? (...)
"It is the common lot of woman and worker to be oppressed. The forms of oppression have differed in successive ages and in various countries, but the oppression itself remained. During the course of historic development the oppressed ones have frequently recognized their oppression, and this recognition has led to an amelioration of their condition (...) But whatever similarities exist between the position of the woman and that of the workingman, the woman has one precedence over the workingman. She is the first human being which came into servitude. Women were slaves before slavery.
"All social dependence and oppression is rooted in the economic dependence of the oppressed upon the oppressor. The woman (...) has been in this position since an early stage (...)
"The oppressed needs some one to animate and inspire him, because he lacks the initiative for independence. It was thus in the present day movement of the proletariat, and it is the same in the struggle for the emancipation of women" (50th Jubilee ed., New York, Socialist Literature, 1910, 3, 9‑10, 76).
Here is a very important first Marxist statement: even in the struggle for the emancipation of women, as well as in the struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat the awareness of this necessity is brought to the oppressed from outside, that is, from the class party. It is the party that must make all the demands of this emancipation clear and organize the practical action necessary for this purpose in order to develop in the mass of the oppressed women the awareness of the necessity of the struggle. To justify this party position it is necessary to go back to the origins of the oppression of women, that is to say, to the beginning of the division into classes of society.
When is the woman question born? With the end of the tribal community and the beginning of the monogamous family, the basis of private property; with the monogamous family begins the period of original accumulation of the means of production and of wealth: the family will be a true productive unit that will imply the total slavery of women, of all women. It was not a gradual development, according to a painless evolution, from the primitive community to the monogamous family, but of a real overpowering of a part of the “people” (i.e., men) that subdues another part of the “people” (i.e., women), all those who were overwhelmed by private property whose necessary emergence resulted in the destruction of communistic forms of life.
In the primitive community, women were socially equal to men: there existed only a division of functions that did not give rise to the domination of one sex over the other because all the activities (of man and woman) were social functions and enjoyed the same consideration within the community. It is no coincidence that the children were recognized only by maternal procreation: since there was no capital or any other form of private property to be transmitted, only the woman was recognized as she gave birth to them; therefore the goal of the primitive community in the sexual field was linked solely to the natural function of reproduction of the species and not to the private property of the male over the female and the hereditary children.
In Woman and Socialism, Bebel writes:
"Morgan expresses himself on this phenomenon in the following manner: “The family is the active element; it is never stationary, but progresses from a lower to a higher form” (...)
"The study of primeval history leaves no doubt as to the entirely different relation of the sexes at an early period of human development from their present relation, and when viewed in the light of our present‑day conceptions, they seem a monstrosity, a mire of immorality. But as each stage in social development has its own methods of production, thus each stage also has its own code of morals, which is only a reflection of its social conditions. Morals are determined by custom, and customs correspond to the innermost nature, that is, to the social necessities of any given period.
"Morgan arrives at the conclusion that in the lowest stage of savagery unrestricted sexual intercourse existed within the tribe, so that all the women belonged to all the men and all the men belonged to all the women; that is, a condition of promiscuity (...)
"Wherever a woman has several husbands, it becomes impossible to determine paternity. Paternity becomes a mere fiction. Even at present, with the institution of monogamous marriage, paternity, as Goethe said in his Apprenticeship, “depends upon good faith”. But if paternity is dubious in monogamous marriage even, it is surely beyond the possibility of determination where polyandry prevails. Only descent from the mother can be shown clearly and undeniably (...)
"At that time “matrimonium” was spoken of instead of “patrimonium,” “mater familias” was said instead of “pater familias,” and one’s native country was referred to as the motherland. Just as the earlier family forms, the gens was founded on the common ownership of property, that is, it was a communistic form of society. Woman was the leader and ruler in this kinship organization and was highly respected, her opinion counting for much in the household as well as in the affairs of the tribe. She is peacemaker and judge, and discharges the duties of religious worship as priestess (...)
"Woman is invulnerable; matricide is deemed the most dreadful crime that calls upon all men for vengeance. It is the common duty of all the men of the tribe, to avenge an injury inflicted upon any member of their kinship by a member of any other tribe. Defense of the women incites the men to highest bravery. Thus the influence of the matriarchy was perceived in all social relations of the ancient peoples, among the Babylonians, the Egyptians, the Assyrians, the Greeks before the heroic age, the Italic tribes before the founding of Rome, the Scythians, the Gauls, the Iberians, the Cantabrians, the Germans, and others. At that time woman held a position in society as she has never held since" (Ibid., 16‑17, 20, 24‑25).
Promiscuity and matriarchy are therefore the form of the first human communities, fundamental historical proofs that the first aggregation of men did not know political and social hierarchies such as the current State and family, but only a division of organic, natural functions, which to develop they did not need antagonistic or sexual discrimination, or kinship, or age. This is to reiterate that the current social and political structure – which the bourgeoisie poses for eternity because it would be an expression of the “natural” way of life of humanity – is not but the consequence of the division into classes of society on the basis of the private property.
One hundred years later the Communist Left will reconfirm the analysis and judgment given by the Marxists of the time on the primitive community, that was itself at a “lowest” level only referred to the development of the productive forces, but at a level many times higher than the current social relations for the degree of humanity it expressed. Here we report excerpts from the work of the Left on 1959 known as Degradation of the Man and of the Woman, in Commentary on the Manuscripts of 1844 (Il Programma Comunista, 1959):
"In quoting these passages it is sometimes necessary to use the word “man”, sometimes the word “male”, because the first expression indicates all the members of the species, of both sexes. There is no point in using the word, harsh in Italian, femmina. When half a century ago an investigation was made into feminism, a miserable bourgeois deviation of the atrocious submission of women in class society, the eminent Marxist Filippo Turati answered with these words only: “the woman... is a man”. He meant: “she will be such in communism, but for your bourgeois society she is an animal, an object”.
"In the relationship (of the male) with the woman, servant and prey of voluptuousness (of the male and also of his own), one finds expressed the infinite degradation in which the man lives himself (in today’s society whatever his sex) because the mystery of this relationship (from man to man, that is to bourgeois society) finds its NON AMBIGUOUS, indisputable, EXHIBITED, unveiled expression in the relationship between the male and the woman, and in the way in which it is understood (in today’s general opinion) such a relationship that is the immediate and natural one of the life of the species. The immediate, natural, necessary relationship of a man with a man is the relationship of a man with a woman. From the character of this relationship (in the various historical forms, it means the text) it follows to what extent man has understood himself as GENERIC being, as MAN (the formula that man has the right to such a name only from the historical moment in which he no longer lives as an individual man and for his individual, but as and for the gender including all his fellow human beings).
"PRIMITIVE COMMUNISM – This form is claimed in all Marxist literature and in fundamental pages of Marx and Engels, who did not exclude the necessity that between that ancient communism and the communism for which the modern proletariat struggles, forms have followed that arose with private property, class societies, and the tradition of their overlapping “cultures”. A frank glorification of that first form is in the pages of Capital and The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State.
"In the coherence of all our doctrine, we can well describe that primordial form in the light of the sexual structure. There we will find the great light of matriarchy in which the woman, the Blessed Mother, directs her males and children, the first great form of natural power in the true sense, in which the woman is active and not passive, mistress and not slave. The tradition remains in the Latin family: while the term family comes from famulus, slave, the term woman comes from domina, mistress. In that first communism, rough yes, but not proprietary nor pecuniary, the form‑love is much higher than at the time of the legendary rats of women by the Romans; it is not the male who conquers the woman-object, but the Mother, whom we do not want to call female, who elects their male for the task, transmitted to her, in a natural and human form, of spreading the species" (1).
Bebel meticulously studies the slow process through which the destruction of the Gens will be determined and the replacement of it by the monogamous family, a description that is impossible to report here for obvious reasons of space. We refer the reader to the impeccable document represented by the original text, limiting ourselves to a few references in addition to a quotation from Engels, which allow us to highlight the radical change that the relationship between men – and especially the position of the woman – underwent at the end of this process.
"The division of labor and the growing demand for tools, implements, weapons, etc., led to a development of handicraft along distinct lines apart from agriculture. A special class of craftsmen arose, whose interests in regard to the ownership and inheritance of property diverged considerably from those of the agricultural class (...) With the breaking up of the old gentile organization the power and influence of woman rapidly declined. The matriarchy disappeared and the patriarchate took its place. Man, being an owner of private property, had an interest in having legitimate children to whom he could will his property, and he, therefore, forced upon woman the prohibition of intercourse with other men (...)
"The matriarchy implied communism and equality of all. The rise of the patriarchate implied the rule of private property and the subjugation and enslavement of woman" (Bebel, 30, 33).
Engels expands on this thesis in The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State:
"Thus, monogamy does not by any means make its appearance in history as the reconciliation of man and woman, still less as the highest form of such a reconciliation. On the contrary, it appears as the subjection of one sex by the other, as the proclamation of a conflict between the sexes hitherto unknown throughout preceding history.
"In an old unpublished manuscript, the work of Marx and myself in 1846, I find the following: “The first division of labor is that between man and woman for child breeding”. And today I can add: the first class antithesis which appears in history coincides with the development of the antagonism between man and woman in monogamous marriage, and the first class oppression with that of the female sex by the male.
"Monogamy was a great historical advance, but at the same time it inaugurated, along with slavery and private wealth, that epoch, surviving to this day, in which every advance is likewise a relative regression, in which the well‑being and development of some are attained through the misery and repression of others. It is the cellular form of civilized society, in which we can already study the nature of the antitheses and contradictions which develop fully in the latter" (Marx‑Engels, Collected Works, 1990, vol. 26, 173‑174).
Engels also says that "In the family, the man is the bourgeoisie; the wife represents the proletariat" (ibid., 181).
Bebel also describes some consequences of the advent of monogamy and inheritance law, which is interesting not only as documentation of what happened then but for what it still represents, namely the oppressive life of millions of women: prostitution, subordination to the double morality that leads to the spiritual and sexual segregation of women in the face of the brazen libertine behavior of men, the minor rights of illegitimate children towards whom certain current laws have gone in favor but certainly not the entire social structure, etc.
"At this period woman’s freedom has come to an end. When she leaves the house she must veil her face – not to waken the desires of some other man. In the Oriental countries where sexual passions are stronger, as a result of the hot climate, this method of isolation is still carried to the extreme. Among the ancients, Athens served as a pattern of the new order. The woman shares the man’s bed, but not his table. She does not address him by his name, but calls him master; she is his servant.
"She was not allowed to appear in public anywhere, and when walking upon the streets was always veiled and plainly dressed. When she committed adultery she was, according to Solon’s law, condemned to pay for her sin either with her life, or with her liberty. Her husband was entitled to sell her as a slave (...)
"Very different was the man’s lot. While the man compelled the woman to abstain absolutely from relations with other men, for the purpose of insuring the legitimacy of his heirs, he was not inclined to abstain from relations with other women. Courtesanship developed. Women noted for their beauty and intellect, usually foreigners, preferred a free life in the most intimate association with men to the slavery of marriage (...)
"Regardless of the question whether woman is oppressed as a proletarian, we must recognize that in this world of private property she is oppressed as a sex being. On all sides she is hemmed in by restrictions and obstacles unknown to the man. Many things a man may do she is prohibited from doing; many social rights and privileges enjoyed by him, are considered a fault or a crime in her case. She suffers both socially and as a sex being. It is hard to say in which respect she suffers more (...)
"According to Kant’s conception man and woman together constitute the perfect human being. Upon a normal union of the sexes the healthy development of mankind depends. Satisfaction of the sexual impulse is essential to the sound physical and mental development of both man and woman. But man has gone beyond the animal stage, and so is not contented by the mere physical satisfaction of his sexual impulse. He requires intellectual attraction as well, and the existence of a certain harmony between himself and the person with whom he enters into union. Where such intellectual harmony fails to exist, the sexual intercourse is purely mechanical and thereby becomes immoral. Men and women of refinement demand a mutual attraction that extends beyond their sexual relations (...)
"Marriage is considered by most women as a kind of employment agency, where they must enter at any cost. Conversely, even a large number of men consider marriage only from the business point of view, and all the advantages and damages are carefully calculated and weighed only from a material point of view. Thus it follows that modern marriage is very far from achieving its purpose and therefore cannot be considered neither “holy” nor “moral” (...)
"In the decadent Roman Empire, an attempt was made to promote marriages and births by means of state awards. In the Germanic empire, which is under a corrupt empire such that of the Caesars, attempts were made to collectively prevent the resolution of numerous marriages. The result will be the same here as there.
"There are thus beings who remain together chained together against their will for the rest of their lives. One side becomes the slave of the other and is forced to suffer the most intimate embraces and caresses for “matrimonial duty”. Caresses and couplings that she perhaps abhors even more than insults and bad treatment. Mantegazza (Paolo M., The Physiology of Love) says well: “There is no greater torture than that which forces a human being to let himself be caressed by a person he does not love”.
"Is such marriage not worse than prostitution? Even the prostitute has a certain degree of liberty of withdrawing from her abominable trade, and if she is not the inmate of a public brothel, she may refuse herself to a man she does not wish for some reason or other. But a woman sold in marriage must endure the embraces of her husband, even though she have a hundred reasons to hate and despise him (...)
"If the marriage has been contracted from the outset and by mutual understanding, as a mere marriage of convenience, matters are not quite as bad. Mutual obligations are considered and a bearable mode of life is found. Scandal is avoided, especially out of consideration for the children, where such exist; and yet it must be said that the children are the ones to suffer most when their parents lead a cold, indifferent life, devoid of love, even if it does not deteriorate into a life of open hostility. More frequently yet an agreement is accomplished to avoid material loss (...)
"The woman is far less inclined to go astray, firstly because physiological reasons make a transgression much more dangerous in her case, and secondly because when she is the one to break the marital vow, it is considered a crime that society will not condone (...) As a rule, women will seek divorce only in cases of flagrant infidelity or gross ill‑treatment, because they are in a dependent position and are obliged to regard marriage as a means of subsistence (Bebel, 38, 39, 95, 104‑105, 106, 118‑119).
Again, in Woman and Socialism:
"Marriage constitutes one phase of the sex relations of bourgeois society; prostitution constitutes the other. If men fail to find satisfaction in marriage, they, as a rule, seek it with prostitution; and those men who for one reason or another refrain from marrying, seek satisfaction with prostitutes also. To those men then, who voluntarily or involuntarily lead an unmarried life, and to those who do not find their expectations realized in marriage, opportunities for satisfaction of the sexual impulse are far more favorable than to women. Men have always regarded it as their “just” privilege to employ prostitution. But they are relentless in condemning a woman who is not a prostitute, when she has “fallen”.
"Abusing their status as masters, they force them to suffocate their strongest instincts and make their social reputation and marriage depend on their chastity. The dependence of the woman on the man cannot be expressed in a more drastic way than through this diversity of concepts and judgments about the satisfaction of one and the same instinct, depending on the sex (...) For the bachelor the conditions are particularly favorable. Nature only signals in women the consequence of the generative act. The man, beyond pleasure, does not have any penis or run any risk (...)
"Prostitution thus becomes a necessary social institution of bourgeois society, just as the police, the standing army, the church and the capitalist class" (Ibid., 174).
Bebel expands on this by discussing the opinion of a number of contemporary physicians on the public health implications of prostitution, particularly W. O. Focke. From whose article Die Prostitution in ethischer und sanitärer Beziehung [Prostitution in Its Ethical and Sanitary Aspects] Bebel quotes:
"[He] regards prostitution as a “necessary corollary of our civilization”. He fears an overproduction of human beings if all persons should marry after having attained maturity, and therefore considers it important that prostitution should be regulated by the State (...)
"The Christian State admits that marriage is insufficient and that the man is justified in seeking illegitimate satisfaction of the sexual impulse. The woman is taken into consideration by this same State only, inasmuch as she yields to the illegitimate satisfaction of male lust, that is, becomes a prostitute. The police supervision and control of enlisted prostitutes does not include the men who mingle with the prostitutes, which ought to be a matter of course if the medical surveillance were to be partly effective at least, quite disregarding the fact that justice demands that the law should be equally applied to both sexes.
"This protection of the man from the woman by the State overturns the nature of conditions. It appears as if men were the weaker, and women the stronger sex, as if women were the seducer, and poor, weak man the seduced" (Deutsche Vierteljahresschrift für öffentliche Gesundheitspflege [German Quarterly Journal for Public Health], no. 1, 1888, 121‑136).
As a demonstration of the continuity of our positions, we present here an excerpt from an article published in Rassegna Comunista, a magazine of the Communist Party of Italy, in 1921, under the title “Combating prostitution”. The article was written by a communist, Alexandra Kollontai, and does nothing but bring back the Bolshevik Party’s position on “obvious” prostitution and, above all, to expose prostitution that hides behind the “moral” marriage.
Communists have never accepted the contrast between the depiction of the prostitute as “immoral” and that of the faithful and exemplary bride as “moral”, modern vestal virgin of the domestic hearth: one prostitutes oneself whenever, through the concession of one’s own body, one tries to escape from social duties, from the fatigue of work for the community.
Therefore, the dictatorship of the proletariat, led by the Communist Party, is leading the fight against prostitution, but not through the imposition – exclusively bourgeois – of the “holy crusade” against those women who have had the only misfortune of not finding a permanent buyer, but by calling on all the forces suitable for common work, for active inclusion in the social organization.
It is no coincidence that one of the points of the Soviet constitution after the conquest of power in Russia stated with extreme simplicity “those who do not work do not eat”, an elementary discriminant – unknown to previous societies – to establish the morality or immorality of an individual in front of the Workers’ Republic regardless of their social position and their gender.
"And what, after all, is the professional prostitute? She is a person whose energy is not used for the collective; a person who lives off others (...) From the point of view of the national economy, the professional prostitute is a labor deserter. For this reason, we must ruthlessly oppose prostitution. In the interests of the economy we must start an immediate fight to reduce the number of prostitutes and eliminate prostitution in all its forms (...)
"We do not, therefore, condemn prostitution and fight against it as a special category but as an aspect of labor desertion. To us in the workers’ republic it is not important whether a woman sells herself to one man or to many. Whether she is classed as a professional prostitute selling her favors to a succession of clients or as a wife selling herself to her husband. All women who avoid work and do not take part in production or in caring for children are liable, on the same basis as prostitutes, to be forced to work.
"We cannot make a difference between a prostitute and a lawful wife kept by her husband. whoever her husband is – even if he is a “commissar”" (Alexandra Kollontai, Prostitution and ways of fighting it, in Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, Lawrence Hill, 1978, 266‑267).
Alexandra Kollontai, writing in 1909, the social basis of the women question, analyzed the bourgeois family thusly:
"In the era when the third estate was just beginning to fulfill its great mission – the accumulation of fabulous wealth within the family – the solidity and stability of family forms were one of the conditions for the success of the bourgeoisie in the struggle for existence with other strata of the population.
"Not without reason the bourgeoisie of the 17th and 18th centuries glorified their morality and, pleased with it, opposed their family virtues to the customs of a depraved and frivolous nobility that had not understood the great secret of capitalist accumulation and considered the family not as the guardian but as the squander of accumulated wealth.
"In order to strengthen the solidity of the family, to raise the prestige of its family virtues higher up, the third estate has brought in religion, which preaches the indissolubility of the sacrament of marriage; the law that punishes the adultery of the wife; the morality that exalts the “sacred character of the domestic hearth”.
"When the bourgeoisie had gained a hegemonic social position, when all the threads of world production were brought together in its hands, its morals, its rules of conduct and its civil codes, which had the precise aim of protecting its class interests, gradually became the compulsory law also for the other strata of the population.
The morals of the third estate were recognized as the morals of all humanity. Strictly material and class interests forced the bourgeoisie to worry about the purity of the wedding bed and to hunt down the illegitimate children, that is, those who could not and should not inherit even a fragment of the treasures accumulated by the family.
"These material interests contribute to the consolidation of the rule of double morality and the establishment of strict legal provisions in the field of family law. And now, all of us, brought up on artificial norms of sexual morality, who are exceptionally committed to protecting the interests of the bourgeoisie, we still adore these class principles, like the highest ideological categories, we are ready to recognize them as normative principles of morality!
"At the same time, with the proclamation of capitalist mode of production as the timeless, eternal form of economic life of mankind, monogamous marriage was recognized as an inexorable and permanent social institution. The evolutionary point of view on marriage was persecuted and condemned with the same fury and hatred that was put in challenging and denying evolutionism in the economic life of society.
"Property and the family are too closely linked: if one of these pillars of the bourgeois world has been shaken, the solidity of the other becomes uncertain. For this reason, the bourgeoisie has always defended its family principles with great care (...)
"In order for any form of social interaction between people to be sustainable, it requires the presence of economic phenomena, which time caused this rather than another form of social interrelation. At the time when subsistence farming dominated, the family was first and foremost an economic cell, producing all the goods indispensable to the group of people who comprised it.
"As the economy of exchange developed and strengthened, the members of the family were increasingly able to meet their needs without the help of the family as an economic cell; nevertheless, until the 19th century, i.e., the dawn of large‑scale capitalist production, the family retained a whole series of small economic functions, which constituted the decisive and defining material element in the morals of the marriage union. As long as a productive value resided in the family, to a greater or lesser extent, its social existence was assured; powerful vital ties united its members more solidly than the strictest laws and the most coercive moral norms could do. But from the moment when large‑scale capitalist production took the family’s economic prerogatives out of its hands, the family lost its value as a necessary economic cell and at the same time was condemned to a slow but inexorable disintegration.
"Indeed, where are the strong economic ties that once made a family so stable and vital? Let us first take the bourgeois family and see the functions depending upon it during long centuries have survived in the bosom of the bourgeoisie family to this day.
"The productive activity of the family, in the sense of the production of the long list of basic necessities, is reduced to a minimum; the domestic sphere is narrowed down to the point of becoming unrecognizable. Where would you find a bourgeois family today who make their own candles, soap and beer, thread and fabric, store products for the winter, bake bread, sew clothes for the whole household? There is no need or profit to consume the strengths of family members to produce or fabricate objects – even if they are basic necessities – that can be procured cheaply in any shop. One after the other, the branches of production have escaped from the domestic economy to become objects of industrial speculation (...)
"If the manufacture and production of everyday objects has ceased within the family, has the family retained other economic functions? Because, after all, over the many centuries of its existence, the family has not only been an independent creator of wealth but also its faithful guardian. The home and all the goods in it, the family treasure: everything was protected and preserved devoutly by the family.
"Sedentary, attached to the property, land, and home, the family of the recent past was the most reliable apparatus for saving family riches, and with such things in place, the richness of the family bonded with the property interests of the family in the closest way. Divide the family, and the family treasures will be dispersed and dissipated.
"Not so today: banks and other savings institutions fully take over the savings functions of the family; it is they, rather than moral‑sexual unions, who take on the task of keeping the family’s accumulated wealth and saving it.
"Moreover, these riches are increasingly taking the form of bearer bonds, which in no way require any special assignment from family members. With the ever‑increasing mobility of life, with the development of communications, which allow the family to move more and more frequently, bulky property becomes a burden; in these conditions, the only form of wealth that is not costly is money and securities. This is how the old, usual function of the family – the preservation of accumulated family wealth – escapes the circle of family obligations.
"But is consumption – this indispensable condition of family life – practiced to the same extent as it was in the past within the hearth? The home has given way to restaurants, clubs, furnished houses and hotels. The upper middle class spends half their lives strolling through elegant resorts and enjoying the services of the hôtels-palaces; the moyenne and petty-bourgeois, in order to get rid of boring family responsibilities and reduce “domestic expenses”, live in furnished houses, eat in restaurants; they work in libraries and public laboratories; in museums and national galleries. The upper middle class spends half their lives strolling through elegant resorts and enjoying the services of the hotels-palaces; the moyenne- and petty-bourgeois, in order to get rid of boring family responsibilities and reduce “domestic expenses”, live in furnished houses, eat in restaurants; they work in libraries and public laboratories; in museums and national galleries.
"As the growing demand for cheap labor in all fields attracts women out of their family cells and into the river of the working population, this kind of life is becoming more and more widespread (...) Today, in the petty- and moyenne-bourgeoisie, the woman, thanks to her salary, more and more often covers a part of the domestic needs; the dependence of the wife on her husband and or the daughter on her father is destroyed at the root and, one after the other, the powerful ties that the members of the bourgeois family once formed between them are broken.
"What remains of the family today? What functions does it still possess, what continues to bind its members together? Perhaps raising children? But where are the bourgeois fathers and mothers who are engaged in the upbringing and education of their offspring? Not only the petty- and moyenne-bourgeoisie, but also the upper middle class no longer disdain public educational institutions. Kindergartens and elementary schools are becoming more widespread than ever before, not to mention secondary and higher education institutions. The function of education, just like the other roles of the family, are transferred from the family cell to society and the State.
"What, then, still remains of the family? What is the function of the family in the modern, individualistic class structure of society? Its exclusive task is the direct transmission of the family patrimony.
"The difficult dissolution of modern marriage has the goal of contributing to the fulfillment of this single task of the present family – a family that serves not the moral needs of the individual, but the interests of property. Does the whole history of modern marriage not show us that this institution was caused by purely utilitarian calculations, and only in rare, especially benevolent cases did it have a moral element of attachment? (...)
"It should be remembered that the laws of all States obstruct with all means the dissolution of marriages, and in this way, forcibly preventing dissolution of useful alliances such as marriages of large fortunes with titles [of nobility], or of land with capital" (Alexandra Kollontai, Sotsial’nyye osnovy zhenskogo voprosa [Social foundations of the woman question], Znaniye, 1909, 115‑123).
How does the destruction of the family in other social strata occur? Kollontai makes an extensive analysis of the disintegration of the peasant family – taking the example of retrograde Russia – which we do not report in full as it is a phenomenon already taken to the extreme consequences, nowadays, by capitalism itself; it is enough to see the numerical change between the city and the countryside as a result of the proletarianization of the peasant population, that, if anything, remains in the country in the form of paid labor. Let us mention only a few facts concerning the exodus of peasant women from the patriarchal family as the beginning of their process of emancipation from family slavery: the passage from the large family “clan”, where the only will is that of the head of the family, to the “nuclear family”, where the work of women can be measured and where women have greater freedom of action and the possibility of obtaining an independent household. The consistent multiplication of female monastic vows, evidence that the discontent of women in the peasant class grows with the evolution of family forms. The introduction of peasant women into seasonal jobs often forced to change provinces to earn a wage.
She is "already a new type of peasant woman, whose psychology is more reminiscent of that of the factory worker than that of the submissive “peasant woman”, who meekly takes on all the hardships of home life consecrated by the traditions of patriarchal life (...) Slowly but surely, a series of profound changes take place in the peasant family, which destroy its centuries‑old stability" (Ibid., 127‑128).
In the same work, Kollontai examines the proletarian family:
"The most numerous layer of the modern society remains the class of proletarians. What is the status of the family in this class of population? Won’t we at least find here the conditions that promise vitality to the current family structure? Can we, however, seriously ask such a question? Where is this family for a modern worker, for a seller of labor‑power?
"As soon as the light dawns, husband and wife both rush to leave their cramped, wretched home to obediently answer the call of the factory whistle and dutifully surrender to the power of the soulless but omnipotent lord, the machine. Husband and wife stay out of the house until late in the evening; the children are entrusted to the care of the Lord God; at best they are cared for by an unemployed or disabled neighbor (...) The street, the noisy, dirty, debauched street: here is their educator, here is the first school of the children of the proletarians (...) If the factory is far from the house, the parents, at lunchtime, do not have time to go and have a look at their abandoned home. The tenants, men and women, the sick, the alcoholic, the old and the children, all the intruders and strangers destroy the last illusion of family isolation.
"The misery, obsessive, knocks on the window and spy with greedy eyes on the sudden misfortune – illness, unemployment, death of a family member, birth of a child – to stick its claws into the proletarian family, to tear it apart and disperse it somewhere (...)
"In such conditions, marriage, even if it is the result of a mutual inclination, soon turns into an intolerable yoke that everyone tries to forget in vodka (...)
"The low salary of the husband, the continuing demand from the capital for cheap female hands push his wife into the great open arms of capitalist production. But from the moment the big doors of the factory closed on the working woman, the fate of the proletarian family was decided. Slowly but surely the life of the worker goes towards ruin. The hearth goes out and ceases to be the center of union of the family members. What a mockery, what a blasphemy in all those sentimental exclamations of the bourgeoisie on the “sacred character” of the “domestic hearth” and of “motherhood”, when millions, tens of millions of mothers are not even able to fulfill their most basic obligations.
"To the imperative appeal of capital, mothers snatch from their wombs their children, who still do not distinguish between day and night, and meekly go to knock on the doors of the factory.
"The bourgeois defenders of marriage and motherhood know perfectly well how in the very belly of the mother the children are deformed or crippled by emanations and harmful gases; how millions of children die from having absorbed toxic substances together with breast milk (...)
"But the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie has no limits: how important can it be for it that the children of the workers employed in the factories of matches or mercury, in the glassworks or in the white factories of cerussa, are born with the deformed skeleton, a weak vital activity, or are born to die in the midst of painful convulsions? How important can it be for it that abortions or stillborn children are the inexorable result of the revolting system of exploitation of women in industry? How important it can be that, driven by the fury of hunger and misery, mothers get rid of their children with clandestine abortions. That statistics reveal the continuous growth of abortions and that among these “criminal mothers” there are not only girls left by their intended but also legitimate wives of proletarians, respectable mothers of families?" (Ibid 45‑47)
Bebel has this to say on the subject:
"Among the lower classes mercenary marriage is practically unknown. The workingman generally marries for love, but nevertheless many harmful and destructive influences exist in the proletarian marriage also. Blessed with many children, cares and worries ensue, and all too often bitter poverty prevails. Disease and death are frequent guests in the proletarian family, and unemployment heightens the misery. Many are the factors that lessen the workingman’s income and frequently deprive him of that meager income altogether. Hard times and industrial crises throw him out of employment; the introduction of new machinery or of new methods of production, makes him superfluous; wars, unfavorable tariff and commercial treaties, the imposition of new indirect taxes, or black-listing by his employers as a result of his political convictions, destroy his means of subsistence or gravely injure them. From time to time one or another thing occurs that entails a longer or shorter period of unemployment with its accompanying misery and starvation. Uncertainty is the mark of his existence.
"Such vicissitudes are productive of ill temper and bitter feelings that most frequently lead to outbursts in domestic life where demands are made daily and hourly that cannot be satisfied. This leads to quarrels and harsh words and eventually to a rupture in the marriage relation (...)
"Fear of poverty and doubts as to whether it will be possible to bring up the children suitable to their station in life, cause many women of classes to commit deeds that are averse to the laws of nature and to the laws of organized society as well. Such deeds include the various methods to prevent conception, and when this has occurred nevertheless, artificial abortion" (Bebel, 125, 135).
We wanted to bring back the long quotations on the situation of the proletarian family, not only because we believe them to be current for thousands of proletarians and sub‑proletarians throughout the world, but also because – if we do not have a static view of the situation – these conditions will tend to generalize also in the “civil” countries with the worsening of the economic crisis that will throw millions of workers into unemployment and even more so in the event of a future imperialist war with which the bourgeoisie will try to resolve the critical situation determined by itself. But even without pushing ourselves into the future we can cite some of the many examples that show how the analysis of Bebel a century ago and of Alexandra Kollontai, who some lazy conservative might believe limited to the backward “Russian situation”, are not overcome at all. We can even stay at the little Italy and neighboring countries to have enough examples:
NAPLES, with its thousands of children trying to make ends meet, exploited and beaten by parents more desperate than them, forced into a sub‑proletarian existence by the excess of decadent capitalism; the sale of children widespread in the South: or rather, not really a sale, but a tragedy of thousands of underprivileged families who try to place their children in couples of small bourgeois sterile so as not to see them die of hunger, the “cancer factories” where the proletarians men and women get sick with serious damage even of offspring;
SEVESO where already hundreds of children have been born deformed not only because of the thirst for profit that has softened the land but also because of the old bourgeois hypocrisy (as Kollontai says) that treats proletarian mothers as “criminals” because they do not want to accept the despair of deformed children, drama highly exacerbated by their precarious economic conditions.
In SWITZERLAND, emigrant parents are prevented from bringing their children with them, threatened with extradition, and there are many cases of parents who, unable to separate themselves from their children, keep them clandestinely, while thousands of children are abandoned to their country of origin without a “home hearth”, entrusted to old sick relatives now unfit for work.
This is the desperate situation of thousands of proletarian families today, even within “our” national borders.
Of course, there is also – at least for now – the aristocratic worker, who neither sells nor exploits his children, who perhaps makes him study at university, even if this costs him in many cases extraordinary shifts and the impossibility of seeing for days his family. But even here for nothing is resolved the situation of the woman linked to the slavery of domestic work as well as that of the master. On the contrary, the more in this type of family is accumulated a growing sordidness and selfishness. The objective of this family leads, in the flourishing moments of capitalism, to the exasperated defense of the “four domestic walls” where the super-individualist petty-bourgeois ideology dominates.
The position of the Communist Left in this regard is clear, as exemplified in this quotation from Il Programma Comunista, April 29‑May 12, 1960:
"Capitalism has destroyed monogamous marriage. Even if this institution formally survives, its historical base gradually crumbles. Women’s work has now shown that except for the transient impediments associated with motherhood, women can successfully replace men in any activity. One time was believed that only war was denied. But today this extreme limitation has also fallen. Just as a man, the woman has learned not only to produce economic goods, but also to slaughter her fellow human beings. What more do we want? (...)
"In the family, or rather in the modern family in which the wife brings home a wage, or a salary, all the selfish degeneration of human nature is perpetuated. The family is the fortress within which man entrenches himself against his fellow human beings, the justification of all the baseness, the abuses, the cowardice that man carries out against his fellow human beings. For the family, man turns into a rapacious beast but the prey he takes home triumphant has been torn from the mouth of his fellow man. And in this the man descends below the level of the beasts. The eagle that goes out to hunt does not carry to the nest the corpse of an eaglet. Nor do wolf cubs eat wolf meat. But the bourgeois moral law exempts me from the obligation to contribute to the nutrition and breeding of your children: indeed, since these do not belong to me, that is, they are not part of “my” family, I can without remorse starve “your” children, if that allows me not to feed the “mine”, but rather to procure them the surplus. Such is the moral law that governs the bourgeois family" (La dissoluzione della morale sessuale borghese è opera dello stesso capitalismo).
To close this chapter on the family in capitalist society, which tends to show that no type of family is to be “saved” or taken as a model for future society (therefore we advocate no reform of the family, but rather its total destruction, like the bourgeois State), we want to highlight another aspect, not the last, rather parallel with the negativity of this clumsy structure that makes it a serious and incurable contradiction of capitalism itself: the waste of enormous productive capacities that the narrow domestic economy takes away from the community, from social production; the thousand monotonous daily operations that require intelligence, physical effort, spirit of adaptation, etc., that, however, each family nucleus and particularly the “angels of the hearth” dedicate only to “their children”, to “their dishes”, to “their clothes”, etc.
Here, then, is another confirmation taken from Il Programma Comunista in an article entitled Homeland and Family, Cornerstones of Social Waste:
"Engels moves on to today’s household. He writes: “If we consider the House, the sanctum sanctorum of the rich (and by now, we add, of every philistine from the middle class, duly kolkhozised by the boorishness in which the press, radio, television collaborate) is it not a foolish waste of labor forces to occupy so many people to serve a single individual whose only occupations consist of idleness? What is the point of that great number of servants, cooks, lackeys, valets, coachmen, servants, gardeners, etc.? They do nothing but labors that have their origin in the isolation of every man within his four walls”. Today it is obvious that the banal objection that bourgeois society would have freed itself from the exorbitant parasitism of this personal service, indeed the average boor would be reduced to crying over it, when, after the lavish dinners, he washed the dishes together with the guests, going to the kitchen. But in fact, the servile functions in the social magma, if they have in a certain sense changed the humiliating label, have certainly not improved their usefulness, and the forms they have taken are no longer useful, nor less ignoble in substance.
"At this point, our maestro Engels believes that he has already demonstrated “that in our rationalized organization, the individual working time in force today, can be already and immediately reduced by half, just by using the labor force that today is not used at all or badly”. This is 1845, let us remember.
"But Engels believes that we are not yet at the most important point, and moves on to that of the destruction of the family home. It is the association substituted to the individual not only in the life of production, but in that of consumption, even for now only of material consumption (...)
"Engels refers here to the proposals of the contemporary “English socialist Robert Owen”. A Utopian, let us say today, without detracting from the esteem Marx had for him. But if we don’t spend words about the schematic ideas that Owen began to implement in New Lanark in his communist factories, which Engels describes to be intelligible at that time, such as the square building of 1,650 feet to the side (about 500 meters) and containing a large garden, capable of accommodating from two to three thousand people (that may well be understood as a better project than much of the latest hypocritical urbanism, especially the Italian INA‑Casa that on almost 25 hectares would house more than 10,000 people!), the critical part of the step is completely decisive.
"120 years ago, it was visionary to have central heating. Just think that in the traditionalist England even in 1962 there were vituperations against projects that did not include a wood fireplace in every bedroom of the big bourgeoisie (the smaller, the more hypocritical)! The brilliant Owen calculated all these immediately achievable economies. What Engels shows with Owen’s minute accounts is the enormous volume of wasted time and effort involved in shredding humanity into molecular family cells, the economic effects of which are, however, less harmful than the social and political ones, as it is there the real limit that chops the wings of the birth of the new social man, unable to show solidarity with his fellow man under the idiotic pretext that he has love for himself and for his minimum family circle, a pretext that every day is reduced to an exaggerated lie.
"Under the reactionary and rhetorical praise of this type of family society, now rotten for millennia, hides one of the most despicable forms of slavery, that of housewives from which come out by equally degenerative, unnatural ways the nations rich in the American style and the poorest where the women of the working class, bear two burdens on their poor shoulders of the so‑called “weaker sex” by the hypocrisy of the well‑meaning.
"Like Owen, Engels mocks the waste of time in making the same provisions in two thousand parcels by the baker and the butcher. But the modern man, dumbfounded by two centuries of capitalism, believes, convinced on the faith of television or the movies, that shopping is the supreme pleasure of human life! And the freed Russian women freeze in unbearable queues! (...)
"Utopianism pits a tabletop model of future society against the current one. Marxism proceeds to the analysis of the capitalist economy, as a product of history and condemned to an increase in the productive forces of humanity, to its current corruption, to the ever‑increasing squandering, to the certainty of the forms that the new society will take, by destroying it" (January 18, 1962) (2).
Therefore, in bourgeois society everything is ruin and dehumanization: the only embryo of the future society is in the revolutionary class struggle, in the revolutionary union of the proletariat – men and women – in the solidarity between the exploited, in the Communist Party.
We wrote that the women’s question in its modern sense precisely coincides with the ending of the family as an economic unit, and that it persist as a “political” framework for the sole aim of social conservation, able to hold together what capitalism has torn apart: the so‑called “family unit” is in fact nonsense from the moment social production and organization becomes responsible for all of the functions which were previously the prerogative of the family.
It was precisely at the time when millions of women were forced to look for work outside of the family, when an objective transformation of the structure of the family was taking place, that the first claims of women emerged, claims which involved women of all strata and all social classes.
Clara Zetkin, in her speech at the German Social Democratic Party’s congress at Gotha on October 16, 1896, referring to the research of Bachofen, Morgan, et al., declared:
"Nonetheless, a women’s question in the modern sense of the term couldn’t be said to exist. It was only the capitalist mode of production which created the societal transformation which brought forth the modern women’s question by destroying the old family economic system which provided both livelihood and life’s meaning for the great majority of women during the pre‑capitalist period. We must, however, not transfer to the ancient economic activities of women those concepts (the concepts of futility and pettiness), that we connect with the activities of women in our times. As long as the old type of family still existed, a woman found a meaningful life by productive activity. Thus she was not conscious of her lack of social rights even though the development of her potentials as an individual was strictly limited (...)
"The machines, the modern mode of production, slowly undermined domestic production and not just for thousands but for millions of women the question arose: Where do we now find our livelihood? Where do we find a meaningful life as well as a job that gives us mental satisfaction? Millions of women were now forced to find their livelihood and their meaningful lives outside of their families and within society as a whole. They then became conscious that their lack of rights made it difficult to protect their interests and from this moment emerges the real, modern women’s question (...)
"The women’s question, however, is only present within those classes of society who are themselves the products of the capitalist mode of production. Thus it is that we find no women’s question in peasant circles that possess a natural (although severely curtailed and punctured) economy. But we certainly find a women’s question within those classes of society which are the most direct creations of the modern mode of production. There is a women’s question for the women of the proletariat, the bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia and the big bourgeoisie. It assumes a different form according to the class situation of each one of these strata" (Clara Zetkin, Selected Writings, Haymarket Books, 2015, 72–74).
The modern women’s question is born at this point. From this time on, all women, ranging from bourgeois to proletarian, get drawn in to the struggle because none of them have the political and civil rights that are granted to men: they aren’t allowed to vote, they aren’t allowed to organize, they are excluded from universities and the professions, marriages are deemed indissoluble and in cases of adultery the female is punished but not the male, they are without rights over their children, property is held solely by the husband, etc. Even proletarian women had to fight to defend their right to work in industry, against proletarian men who saw working women as competitors who would lower their wages, an attitude which only softened when the proletariat gave rise to the economic association.
To sum up, women had been left out of the democratic revolution and had yet to fight for their democratic rights, for equality with men. And it was from this that the feminist movements derived the justification for their existence, most famously the suffragettes. There is a description by Clara Zetkin which testifies to the bravery and fighting spirit of many bourgeois “heroines”, as genuine as many of those who fought in the bourgeois revolution.
And yet, while recognizing the merits of this movement and the need for women, for all women, to win democratic rights, the party adopted as regards this issue the same analytical method and the same practice as it had towards the bourgeois revolution: no revolution by stages, that is, no submission by the proletarian woman to the bourgeois woman, not even during the fight for democratic rights; a clear separation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat from the very beginning.
What we want to make clear is that the communist party has never accepted the thesis of “female people” versus “male people”; instead it has revealed the bourgeois aims that propel the women of the bourgeoisie into the struggle and the aims of proletarian women, clearly opposed even if some of them momentarily converge. Proletarian women beware! warned the party: while for the bourgeoisie, democracy is an end in itself, for you it must be a means that will allow you to enter the class struggle, alongside proletarian men, for the conquest of political power.
"How does the women’s question shape up as far as the Upper Ten Thousand are concerned? The woman of the Upper Ten Thousand, thanks to her property, may freely develop her individuality and live as she pleases. In her role as wife, however, she is still dependent upon her husband. The guardianship of the weaker sex has survived in the family law which still states: “And he shall be your master”. And how is the family of the Upper Ten Thousand constituted in which the wife is legally subjugated by the husband? At its very founding, such a family lacks the moral prerequisites. Not individuality but money decides the matrimony. Its motto is: “What capital joins, sentimental morality must not part”. Thus in this marriage, two prostitutions are taken for one virtue. The eventual family life develops accordingly. Wherever a woman is no longer forced to fulfill her duties, she devolves her duties as spouse, mother and housewife upon paid servants. If the women of these circles have the desire to give their lives a serious purpose, they must, first of all, raise the demand to dispose of their property in an independent and free manner.
"This demand, therefore, represents the core of the demands raised by the women’s movement of the Upper Ten Thousand. These women, in their fight for the realization of their demand vis‑a‑vis the masculine world of their class, fight exactly the same battle that the bourgeoisie fought against all of the privileged estates; i.e., a battle to remove all social differences based upon the possession of property" (Ibid., 74).
So, a struggle between bourgeois factions. Separation of the assets! What bourgeois women aspire to, in other words, is the same right to extort surplus value from the proletariat as the men of their own class.
"The more right‑wing feminists, those who, because of their social situation are part of the upper bourgeoisie, concentrate on two main problems: 1) Replacing religious with civil marriage, which at the same time would make divorce easier; 2) the possibility of dividing the property of the spouses in countries where this has not yet been established.
"These two claims without any doubt have a very great importance for women of the moyenne- and haute-bourgeoisie, for the representatives of capital in any of its forms: this for them would be the best way of defending their own economic interests – on the one hand protecting the common possessions of the father and mother by way of the civil marriage for the children; on the other maintaining their complete economic independence from their husbands.
"As representatives of the haute-bourgeoisie it is evidently in this spirit that our progressive women compelled us to elaborate their own claims as regards the question of the family. The programme of the progressive women’s party states: “As far as family Law is concerned it is necessary to institute marriage as a legal act, obligatory for all. The religious consecration of marriage must remain the free choice of each individual. Divorce will be made easier and the formalities simplified. Parents will need to exercise equal power over their children. Women will be equal to men in everything: she will have rights to the family possessions, and legislation will need to make her economically independent of her husband if, for domestic reasons, she is unable to earn a living. In the same way legislation must install a wide‑reaching protection of the children, in particular those born outside the marriage” (...)
"Setting out from the consideration that the economic and social structure is unchangeable, the progressive woman only wants to bring about some modifications to the present family relationships, modifications which nonetheless do not in any way strike at the roots of the bourgeois family. The modification introduced in this way has not only the aim of improving the reciprocal relationships between the people united by the mutual ties of marriage, but also that of solidifying the present form and making it more vital" (Kollontai, Sotsial’nyye osnovy).
Zetkin continues further:
"How does the women’s question appear in the circles of the petty-bourgeois, the middle class and the bourgeois intelligentsia? Here it is not property which dissolves the family, but mainly the concomitant symptoms of capitalist production. To the degree this production completes its triumphal march, the middle class and the petty-bourgeois are hurtling further and further towards their destruction. Within the bourgeois intelligentsia, another circumstance leads to the worsening of the living conditions: capitalism needs the intelligent and scientifically trained work force. It therefore favored an overproduction of mental-work proletarians and contributed to the phenomenon that the formerly respected and profitable societal positions of members of the professional class are more and more eroding.
"To the same degree, however, the number of marriages is decreasing; although on the one hand the material basis is worsening, on the other hand the individual’s expectations of life are increasing, so that a man of that background will think twice or even thrice before he enters into a marriage. The age limit for the founding of a family is raised higher and higher and a man is under no pressure to marry since there exist in our time enough societal institutions which offer to an old bachelor a comfortable life without a legitimate wife.
"The capitalist exploitation of the proletarian work force through its starvation wages, sees to it that there is a large supply of prostitutes which corresponds to the demand by the men. Thus within the bourgeois circles, the number of unmarried women increases all the time.
"The wives and daughters of these circles are pushed out into society so that they may establish for themselves their own livelihood which is not only supposed to provide them with bread but also with mental satisfaction. In these circles women are not equal to men in the form of possessors of private property as they are in the upper circles. The women of these circles have yet to achieve their economic equality with men and they can only do so by making two demands: The demand for equal professional training and the demand for equal job opportunities for both sexes. In economic terms, this means nothing less than the realization of free access to all jobs and the untrammeled competition between men and women.
"The realization of this demand unleashes a conflict of interest between the men and women of the bourgeoisie and the intelligentsia. The competition of the women in the professional world is the driving force for the resistance of men against the demands of bourgeois women’s rights advocates" (Zetkin, 75).
It is from the lack of property to share out, therefore, that a different attitude on the part of the feminist petty-bourgeois intellectuals on the question of the family ensues. Whereas the right‑wing feminists, the upper bourgeoisie, concern themselves with changing family legislation in their favor (as we have seen), the intellectuals are for absolute independence without any institution: men and women as equals on the labor market and “free love” as far as sexual relations are concerned.
As Kollontai puts it:
"The heroic struggle of individual young women of the bourgeois world, who fling down the gauntlet and demand of society the right to “dare to love” without orders and without chains, ought to serve as an example for all women languishing in family chains – this is what is preached by the more emancipated feminists abroad and our progressive equal-righters at home. The marriage question, in other words, is solved in their view without reference to the external situation; it is solved independently of changes in the economic structure of society. The isolated, heroic efforts of individuals is enough. Let a woman simply “dare”, and the problem of marriage is solved (...)
"The feminists and the social reformers from the camp of the bourgeoisie, naively believing in the possibility of creating new forms of family and new types of marital relations against the dismal background of the contemporary class society, tie themselves in knots in their search for these new forms.
"If life itself has not yet produced these forms, it is necessary, they seem to imagine, to think them up whatever the cost. There must, they believe, be modern forms of sexual relationship which are capable of solving the complex family problem under the present social system" (Kollontai, 66, 68).
As we can see, not revolutionary destruction of the capitalist system as uniquely responsible for, and creator of, every oppression, but rather a super-imposition of new forms over the old. The feminists of the left, while clearly separating themselves from those of the right who declare themselves preservers of the traditional family, find themselves objectively alongside them in conserving existing society. They fight the effects of their oppression and not its causes, forgetting that although private property – the real, rotten, surviving phenomenon to destroy – is best contained within the traditional family it doesn’t spare “free unions”, because it interposes itself into all relationships that people establish between themselves in this society.
"How utopian these marriage formulas sound. How feeble these palliatives, when considered in the light of the gloomy reality of our modern family structure. Before these formulas of “free relationships” and “free love” can become practice, it is above all necessary that a fundamental reform [Kollontai clearly means “reform” in a revolutionary sense here] of all social relationships between people take place; furthermore, the moral and sexual norms and the whole psychology of mankind would have to undergo a thorough evolution. Is the person psychologically able to cope with “free love”? What about the jealousy that eats into even the best human souls? And that deeply-rooted sense of property that demands the possession not only of the body but also of the soul of another? And the inability to have the proper respect for the individuality of another? The habit of either subordinating oneself to the loved one, or of subordinating the loved one to oneself? And the bitter and desperate feeling of desertion, of limitless loneliness. Which is experienced when the loved ceases to love and leaves? Where can the lonely person, who is an individualist to the very core of his being, find solace?
"The collective, with its joys and disappointments and aspirations, is the best outlet for the emotional and intellectual energies of the individual. But is modern man capable of working with this collective in such a way as to feel the mutually interacting influences? Is the life of the collective really capable, at present, of replacing the individual’s petty personal joys? Without the “unique”, “one‑and‑only” twin soul, even the socialist, the collectivist, is quite alone in the present antagonistic world. Only in the working class do we catch the pale glimpse of the future, of more harmonious and more social relations between people. The family problem is as complex and many‑faceted as life itself. Our social system is incapable of solving it" (Ibid., 68‑89. Kollontai clearly means “reform” in a revolutionary sense here).
We need to emphasize however that in criticizing this petty-bourgeois deviation we are not seeking to prompt greater sympathy for the traditional family, not even, in a hypocritical way, “...while waiting to take power”. As we have already shown, legal wife and prostitute are in many cases two sad sides of the same coin.
We are opposed to the ideology of “free love” only inasmuch as it tries to replace revolution as a way of solving once and for all the problem of the relationship between the sexes. On the contrary, we want to make it very clear that it is feminism itself – as an ideology – that wishes to distort into a self-sufficient political finality the positive tendency of millions of women in search for their own inner and outer independence, and affirmation of their own individuality as they seek to remove themselves from the wardship of men in order to try and re‑establish a relationship that is equal rather than antagonistic.
The search for free love, if purged of all radical-bourgeois ideologies and from the anathema of conservatives and reactionaries, is an aspect of the affirmation of themselves as human beings for which millions of women feel the need. New forms of relationships between the sexes cannot assert themselves without entirely shattering the existing social order, but the process leading to this finality is already recognizable in the independent path being followed, despite the difficulties, by so many women and which in fact derives from the increasing decomposition of current institutions.
Under the influence of capitalist production, millions of women have been forced to enter the collectivity that exists outside the family, and therefore, at the same time to contradict their own recently held image of themselves as man’s “accessory” on the economic, social and sexual levels.
It is even more indispensable to reject the anxiety and separatism which feminism expresses in order to forcefully re‑affirm the class route, which includes the women’s army marching for their liberation.
"As far as the proletarian woman is concerned, it is capitalism’s need to exploit and to search incessantly for a cheap labor force that has created the women’s question. It is for this reason, too, that the proletarian woman has become enmeshed in the mechanism of the economic life of our period and has been driven into the workshop and to the machines. She went out into the economic life in order to aid her husband in making a living. But the capitalist mode of production transformed her into an unfair competitor. She wanted to bring prosperity to her family, but instead misery descended upon it. The proletarian woman obtained her own employment because she wanted to create a more sunny and pleasant life for her children, but instead she became almost entirely separated from them. She became an equal of the man as a worker; the machine rendered muscular force superfluous and everywhere women’s work showed the same results in production as men’s work.
"And since women constitute a cheap labor force and above all a submissive one that only in the rarest of cases dares to kick against the thorns of capitalist exploitation, the capitalists multiply the possibilities of women’s work in industry.
"As a result of all this, the proletarian woman has achieved her independence. But verily, the price was very high and for the moment they have gained very little. If during the Age of the Family, a man had the right (just think of the law of Electoral Bavaria!) to tame his wife occasionally with a whip, capitalism is now taming her with scorpions. In former times, the rule of a man over his wife was ameliorated by their personal relationship. Between an employer and his worker, however, exists only a cash nexus. The proletarian woman has gained her economic independence, but neither as a human being nor as a woman or wife has she had the possibility to develop her individuality. For her task as a wife and a mother, there remain only the breadcrumbs which the capitalist production drops from the table.
"Therefore the liberation struggle of the proletarian woman cannot be similar to the struggle that the bourgeois woman wages against the male of her class (...) She does not need to fight against the men of her class in order to tear down the barriers which have been raised against her participation in the free competition of the market place. Capitalism’s need to exploit and the development of the modern mode of production totally relieves her of having to fight such a struggle. On the contrary, new barriers need to be erected against the exploitation of the proletarian woman. Her rights as wife and mother need to be restored and permanently secured. Her final aim is not the free competition with the man, but the achievement of the political rule of the proletariat. The proletarian woman fights hand in hand with the man of her class against capitalist society" (Zetkin, 76‑77).
"The laborers, as is always the case, have been the first to draw the logical consequences of the participation of woman in social production; they have replaced the ideal of the artisan – the wife who is nothing but a housekeeper – by a new ideal – woman as a companion in their economic and political struggles for the raising of wages and the emancipation of labor" (Paul Lafargue, The Woman Question, 1904, in The Right to be Lazy and Other Studies, 1907, 114).
"To be sure, she also agrees with the demands of the bourgeois women’s movement, but she regards the fulfillment of these demands simply as a means to enable that movement to enter the battle, equipped with the same weapons, alongside the proletariat (...) The granting of political equality to women does not change the actual balance of power. The proletarian woman ends up in the proletarian, the bourgeois woman in the bourgeois camp. We must not let ourselves be fooled by Socialist trends in the bourgeois women’s movement which last only as long as bourgeois women feel oppressed" (Zetkin, 78).
"The proletarian women are waging war against the factors that are behind the modern form of family and marriage (...) Here we have the main difference between the bourgeois and proletarian approach to the difficult problem of the family" (Kollontai, 68).
From this analysis the assumption seems clear: that women, all women, must deal with the problem of their “democratic” emancipation, whereby democratic we mean equality with men, a goal not incompatible in itself with bourgeois society, but they cannot and should not group themselves together in an undifferentiated manner under a single “feminist” banner because the various class positions present among woman result in a corresponding divergence as to the final ends and means to be used in this struggle.
But it is proletarian women who have the most difficult task: to tackle, along with the men of their own class, any democratic demand using the methods of direct action and class struggle – methods typical of the working class in general – not against men but against the entire society represented by the bourgeois State.
This banner and this alone is the one that must fly over the head‑on attack on all bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideologies, with a view to creating a battlefront on which all women who sincerely and passionately feel the need to free themselves from their condition of slavery can come together.
When Marxists speak of democratic demands, it is clear that they do not intend to speak of formal democracy, such as, for example, the rotten parliamentary game between political cliques, nor do they intend to give any weight to the idealistic and demagogic headcounts of the majorities and minorities, but rather to recognize in certain social and political demands elements of historical progress indispensable in the revolutionary process for the emancipation of the proletariat and of the whole of society. These demands are defined as “democratic” precisely because they do not concern a single class – for example the proletariat – but different social strata, indeed all the social strata from the bourgeoisie to the proletariat; in short, they are all those rights of “freedom” and “equality” under the banner of which the bourgeois revolution took place.
But was it not precisely and only the Marxist critique that demonstrated the impossibility of the bourgeoisie to be consistent with its own promises? Marxists demonstrated not only that the power of the bourgeoisie was based on the oppression of the proletarian class – the final historical class – but also the survival of historical forms that lagged behind capitalist development itself, such as the slavery of women to the domestic economy and their political and civil segregation.
The bourgeois revolution had left out women, did not even apply to them the canons of formal democracy “all citizens are equal before the law and before the State”, because, as we have seen, they were the subjects of special, discriminating laws, which limited the entire stratum of women. This burden weighed on all women, except for the proletarians who had to bear two burdens: that of social and political discrimination and that of the economy as they belonged to the class of the underprivileged.
That is why it would be sectarian and negative for the revolution to delimit the feminine question to the pure “worker” sphere, to recognize the oppression of women only in the situation of working women. As Lenin exclaimed passionately during the famous conversation with Clara Zetkin in 1920, which she published in January 1925:
"[We ]hate, yes, hate everything, and will abolish everything which tortures and oppresses the woman worker, the housewife, the peasant woman, the wife of the petty trader, yes, and in many cases the women of the possessing classes. The rights and social regulations which we demand for women from bourgeois society show that we understand the position and interests of women, and will have consideration for them under the proletarian dictatorship. Not of course, as the reformists do, lulling them to inaction and keeping them in leading strings. No, of course not; but as revolutionaries who call upon the women to work as equals in transforming the old economy and ideology" (Clara Zetkin, Reminiscences of Lenin, London, Modern Books Limited, 1929), 65).
We seem to hear the anti‑feminists interested in the status quo objecting: "but how did Lenin not see the primacy of class? Is it possible that he addressed all women?".
Lenin was a superb revolutionary who knew how to handle the weapon of dialectics, not only in words but also in deeds, and he knew very well – as Russia teaches – that the class front was not to be sought in the field of demands, many of which were necessarily common to all women, but in the field of the means to be used for these purposes and that these means were nothing more than the traditional ones of the labor movement and the revolutionary party: direct action against the capitalist State and not division between men and women; proletarian unity of men and women who would participate in the struggle organized, independently of the other classes, in the party.
In fact, if certain claims are common to all female “people”, the means to affirm them are not common precisely because the people are divided into antagonistic classes with different historical purposes. Precisely for this reason, only communists – who are the only ones today to proclaim this truth – can consequently also lead the struggle for democratic claims, to achieve the famous “social justice” that democrats, in the words of yesterday and today, invoke at every step.
It would therefore be wrong to identify “democratic rights” with “democratic means” and to deny the former as negators of the latter.
Lenin speaks again:
"The Communist women’s movement must itself be a mass movement, a part of the general mass movement. Not only of the proletariat, but of all the exploited and oppressed, all the victims of capitalism or any other mastery" (Ibid., 62).
We will see later how Lenin intended to put himself practically on this ground of clash against the bourgeoisie. In the meantime we want to go into the merits of three fundamental claims: freedom of divorce, of abortion, and of universal suffrage, that the party found itself not only evaluating but – as they say – ”managing” the day after the seizure of power in Russia.
Although this particular promise has already been accepted in Western societies, the terms in which it was set by the Second and Third Communist International clarify the need for the struggle for women’s political rights even after the completion of the bourgeois revolution and how the party has defined the class front within the women’s movement. As stated in the resolution presented by Clara Zetkin at the Congress of the Socialist International in Stuttgart on 22 August 1907:
"The granting of suffrage to the female sex does not eliminate the class differences between the exploiters and the exploited from which are derived the most serious social obstacles to the free and harmonious development of the female proletarian. It also does not eliminate the conflicts which are created for women as members of their sex from the social contradictions that occur between men and women within the capitalist system. On the contrary: The complete political equality of the female sex prepares the ground on which the conflicts will be fought with the greatest intensity. These conflicts are varied, but the most serious and painful one is the conflict between professional work and motherhood.
"For us Socialists, therefore, women’s suffrage cannot be the “final goal” as it is for bourgeois women (...) It arms the female proletarians in their battle against class exploitation and class rule, in their effort to acquire their full humanity. It enables them to participate to a higher degree than heretofore in the attainment of political power by the proletariat (...)
"We Socialists do not demand women’s suffrage as a natural right with which women are born. We demand it as a social right which is anchored in the revolutionized economic activity and in the revolutionized social state and personal consciousness of women (...)
"The woman is detached from the household as the source of her livelihood and she gains her independence from her family and her husband. In many cases, too, the family no longer offers her a satisfactory meaning of life. Just like the man under equally hard conditions (and at times under even more difficult ones), she has to take up the fight for the vital necessities against a hostile environment. She needs for this, just like the man, her full political rights because such rights are weapons with which she can and must defend her interests. Together with her social being, her world of perception and thought is being revolutionized. The political impotence which the female sex accepted as natural for so many centuries is [now] viewed by her as an outrageous injustice. By a slow, painful developmental process, women are emerging from the narrowness of family life to the forum of political activity. They are demanding their full political equality as it is symbolized by suffrage as a vital social necessity and a social emancipation. The obtainment of suffrage is the necessary corollary to the economic independence of women.
"One would assume that in view of this situation, the entire politically disenfranchised female sex would form one phalanx to fight for universal women’s suffrage. But that is not the case at all. The bourgeois women do not even stand united and determined behind the principle of the full political equality of the female sex. They are even more reluctant to fight energetically, as one united force, for universal women’s suffrage. In the final analysis, this is not due to the ignorance and shortsighted tactics of the leaders of the suffragettes’ camp, even though they can be correctly blamed for a number of deficiencies. It is the inevitable consequence of the diverse social strata to which women belong. The value of enfranchisement stands in a reverse relationship to the size of the estate. It is of least importance to the women of the Upper Ten Thousand and it means the most to the female proletarians. Thus the struggle for women’s suffrage, too, is dominated by class contradictions and class struggle. There cannot be a unified struggle for the entire sex, particularly when this battle does not relate to a bloodless principle, but rather to the concrete and vital question of the women’s right to vote. We cannot expect bourgeois women to proceed against their very nature.
"The female proletarians in their struggle for civil rights cannot, therefore, count on the support of the bourgeois women because the class contradictions preclude that female proletarians will join the bourgeois suffragette movement. All of this does not mean that they should reject the bourgeois suffragettes who want to march behind them or at their side in the battle for the women’s right to vote. They may march separately but fight together. But the female proletarians must know that they cannot acquire the right to vote in a struggle of the female sex without class distinctions against the male sex. No, it must be a class struggle of all the exploited without differences of sex against all exploiters no matter what sex they belong to" (Zetkin, 99‑101)
Recent legislation in even the most advanced countries confirms the real difficulty for women in regaining their personal freedom from marriage. Therefore, the legal inferiority of women in general has not substantially changed, even in this field, while still today for the proletariat there is often the economic impossibility of being able to emancipate themselves from the marriage bond. Lenin expresses himself in an article from 1916 on the subject of divorce:
"The reader will recall that [the question of divorce] was first posed by Rosa Luxemburg in the discussion on the national question. She expressed the perfectly justified opinion that (...) we must, as centralist Social-Democrats, insist that all major national issues – and divorce legislation is one of them – should come within the jurisdiction of the central government (...) This example clearly demonstrates that one can not be a democrat and socialist without demanding full freedom of divorce now, because the lack of such freedom is an additional oppression of the oppressed sex (...)
"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 un‑realisable 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. The right to elect their “own” people’s judges, officials, school-teachers, jurymen, etc., is likewise in most cases un‑realisable under capitalism precisely because of the economic subjection of the workers and peasants. The same applies to the democratic republic: our programme defines it as “government by the people”, though all Social-Democrats know perfectly well that under capitalism, even in the most democratic republic, there is bound to be bribery of officials by the bourgeoisie and an alliance of stock exchange and the government (...)
"Marxists know that democracy does not abolish class oppression. It only makes the class struggle more direct, wider, more open and pronounced, and that is what we need. The fuller the freedom of divorce, the clearer will women see that the source of their “domestic slavery” is capitalism, not lack of rights. The more democratic the system of government, the clearer will the workers see that the root evil is capitalism, not lack of rights. The fuller national equality (and it is not complete without freedom of secession), the clearer will the workers of the oppressed nations see that the cause of their oppression is capitalism, not lack of rights, etc.
"Under capitalism the right of divorce, as all other democratic rights without exception, is conditional, restricted, formal, narrow and extremely difficult of realization. Yet no self-respecting Social-Democrat will consider anyone opposing the right of divorce a democrat, let alone a socialist. That is the crux of the matter. All “democracy” consists in the proclamation and realization of “rights” which under capitalism are realizable only to a very small degree and only relatively. But without the proclamation of these rights, without a struggle to introduce them now, immediately, without training the masses in the spirit of this struggle, socialism is impossible" (A Caricature of Marxism and Imperialist Economism, in vol. 23 of Collected Works, 1974, 72‑74).
We believe it is necessary to dwell in particular on the discussed “right to abortion” because it is better suited to demonstrating all the bourgeois hypocrisy given the doggedness (for example in Italy) that priests and vulgar “objectors” put in order to prevent the application of this law, when for years there has been silence on clandestine abortion and on all the moral and material miseries that accompany the lack of family planning.
Clara Zetkin identified the conflict between professional work and motherhood – which she called “the most serious and painful” – as the most serious element in the emancipation of women (Zetkin, 99). The right to abortion is part of the plan of claims in favor of women to protect them – in certain historical periods – from the painful consequences of motherhood and to reduce their degree of subjugation to capitalist exploitation. The party does not consider the use of abortion as the best way to solve the social problems of women and the problem of misery in general, but rather as a consequence of class society and its bestial exploitation. Abortion practices are as old as the dreary society in which we live. In fact, to the deaths at work should be added the thousands of women who have died as a result of clandestine abortion practices and the thousands of children who have died or been mistreated for lack of the protection that capitalist society does not take on itself but imposes on the individual woman, even if proletarian on low wages or expelled from production for lack of work or because of too many children to look after (what do moralists and objectors think about the right to life of the “low” Neapolitans where they curl up in the filth of a room up to fourteen children?).
It should be noted, however, that, beyond these considerations, Lenin defines freedom of abortion as an aspect of "defending fundamental democratic rights for citizens of both sexes". On the other hand, birth control is not a bourgeois claim, but a social necessity that every class and every mode of production cannot ignore but that every class and every mode of production tries to solve for its own ends.
Precisely for this reason, the communists cannot have a fixed scheme: “yes” to births or “no” to births, but, as the bourgeoisie maneuvers this social function for capitalist ends, therefore, against a part of society, the communists want to direct this function to bring it back to coincide with the very interest of the species and that is, of the whole of society. The claim of free and unpaid abortion, that so much opposition finds, lies on this path. While the bourgeoisie, on the one hand, had to approve a partial law for its exploitation needs, on the other hand, it leaves its clerical allies free to fight it. Since the aim of the bourgeoisie is to maintain exploitation, there can be no other consequence than aberrant methods even in the field of birth regulation.
Indifferently, the bourgeoisie gives rewards to the prolific families, which will obviously be proletarian families, when its thirst for profit requires a super-production of workforce, an increase in the exploited. This is the true face of capitalism, which has only one “moral”, profit, that attempts to hide behind resounding social principles. Thus, on the one hand, it condemns prostitution, which it itself has provoked, and homosexuality as the product of some perverse glands of certain men and women, marginalizing them from society; on the other hand, it denies abortion in the name of the defense of life and defends marriage – already defined by us as the greatest legalized prostitution – in the name of love.
We answer with Lenin that even the communists have only one “moral” – the social revolution – and they don’t need to hide themselves behind any hypocritical preaching about life, even though they are the only ones compared to all the other sects and parties that they really cares about. That is why we face the problem of abortion as materialists, thinking of what serves the struggle that – we want to repeat – is the organized expression of the immediate needs of the oppressed.
One will object: is it not Lenin who fought against the Malthusians, against their preaching for birth restriction? Of course; and we fully claim this battle against the small, fearful bourgeoisie which, in moments of capitalist crisis, feels the malaise and fears the end of its privileges and is all the more frightened by the danger of being sent back to the proletariat. The petty-bourgeois has no historical perspective, does not foresee or desire the end of the capitalist regime, so birth restriction becomes its theory (“the less we are and eat, the more we can survive”) in an attempt to stem the crisis that oppresses it without resorting to revolution. Lenin fought this theory because it is harmful to the proletariat and its struggle, because it expresses his mistrust of the revolutionary future that the new generations will have to complete:
"The working class is not perishing, it is growing, becoming stronger, gaining courage, consolidating itself, educating itself and becoming steeled in battle (...) We are already laying the foundation of a new edifice and our children will complete its construction" (Lenin, The Working Class and Neo‑malthusianism).
So Lenin expresses himself on behalf of the whole working class in order to reject the slackness of the middle classes, but it is still Lenin who concludes by saying just as clearly that:
"It goes without saying that this does not by any means prevent us from demanding the unconditional annulment of all laws against abortions or against the distribution of medical literature on contraceptive measures, etc. Such laws are nothing but the hypocrisy of the ruling classes. These laws do not heal the ulcers of capitalism, they merely turn them into malignant ulcers that are especially painful for the oppressed masses" (Ibid.).
The dictatorship of the proletariat in revolutionary Russia will prove this in practice with the law of 20 November 1920. At a conference held in 1921, at the end of a long exposition on the situation of women, Alexandra Kollontai spoke about abortion:
"On 20 November 1920 the labor republic issued a law abolishing the penalties that had been attached to abortion. What is the reasoning behind this new attitude? Russia, after all, suffers not from an overproduction of living labor but rather from a lack of it. Russia is thinly, not densely populated. Every unit of labor power is precious. Why then have we declared abortion to be no longer a criminal offense? Hypocrisy and bigotry are alien to proletarian politics. Abortion is a problem connected with the problem of maternity, and likewise derives from the insecure position of women (we are not speaking here of the bourgeois class, where abortion has other reasons – the reluctance to “divide” an inheritance, to suffer the slightest discomfort, to spoil one’s figure or miss a few months of the season etc.).
"Abortion exists and flourishes everywhere, and no laws or punitive measures have succeeded in rooting it out. A way around the law is always found. But “secret help” only cripples women; they become a burden on the labor government, and the size of the labor force is reduced. Abortion, when carried out under proper medical conditions, is less harmful and dangerous, and the woman can get back to work quicker. Soviet power realizes that the need for abortion will only disappear on the one hand when Russia has a broad and developed network of institutions protecting motherhood and providing social education, and on the other hand when women understand that childbirth is a social obligation; Soviet power has therefore allowed abortion to be performed openly and in clinical conditions.
"Besides the large‑scale development of motherhood protection, the task of labor Russia is to strengthen in women the healthy instinct of motherhood, to make motherhood and labor for the collective compatible and thus do away with the need for abortion. This is the approach of the workers’ republic to the question of abortion, which still faces women in the bourgeois countries in all its magnitude.
"Women in bourgeois countries are struggling with the painful situation generated by the world wars [, the Cold War, and now the War on Terror]; they succumb under a double burden: wage labor for capital and motherhood. As soon as the woman will be viewed as being an essential labor unit, the key to the solution of the complex question of maternity can be found. In bourgeois society, where housework complements the system of capitalist economy and private property creates a stable basis for the isolated form of the family, there is no way out for the working woman" (Kollontai, 148).
This is how Marxists think! Let us fight for the development of a healthy maternal instinct that will be the basis of a harmonious development of the species, but not with empty sermons to the thousands of women oppressed by tremendous burdens and even sparing our contempt for that certain hypocritical “feeling” regarding children in the embryonic stage, feelings that usually dwell in the hearts of those who do not know the material and moral suffering of the thousands of mothers with no way out.
In his book The Revolution Betrayed, Trotsky speaks of the period in which the Stalinist counterrevolution was turning back all the conquests of October; among other things, the family, the formidable bastion of bourgeois conservation, had to be re‑evaluated. It was therefore necessary to interrupt the process of emancipation of women with the usual formulas all too well known in the bourgeois West: “the joys of motherhood”, repealing the law on accessible and free abortion:
"The mass homelessness of children is undoubtedly the most unmistakable and most tragic symptom of the difficult situation of the mother. On this subject even the optimistic Pravda is sometimes compelled to make a bitter confession: “The birth of a child is for many women a serious menace to their position”. It is just for this reason that the revolutionary power gave women the right to abortion, which in conditions of want and family distress, whatever may be said upon this subject by the eunuchs and old maids of both sexes, is one of her most important civil, political and cultural rights. However, this right of women too, gloomy enough in itself, is under the existing social inequality being converted into a privilege. Bits of information trickling into the press about the practice of abortion are literally shocking. Thus through only one village hospital in one district of the Urals, there passed in 1935 “195 women mutilated by midwives” – among them 33 factory workers, 28 clerical workers, 65 collective farm workers, 58 housewives, etc. This Ural district differs from the majority of other districts only in that information about it happened to get into the press. How many women are mutilated every day throughout the extent of the Soviet Union?
"Having revealed its inability to serve women who are compelled to resort to abortion with the necessary medical aid and sanitation, the State makes a sharp change of course, and takes the road of prohibition (...) One of the members of the highest Soviet court, Soltz, a specialist on matrimonial questions, bases the forthcoming prohibition of abortion on the fact that in a socialist society where there are no unemployed, etc., etc., a woman has no right to decline “the joys of motherhood”. The philosophy of a priest endowed also with the powers of a gendarme. We just heard from the central organ of the ruling party that the birth of a child is for many women, and it would be truer to say for the overwhelming majority, “a menace to their position”. We just heard from the highest Soviet institution that “the liquidation of homeless and uncared children is being weakly carried out”, which undoubtedly means a new increase of homelessness. But here the highest Soviet judge informs us that in a country where “life is happy” abortion should be punished with imprisonment – just exactly as in capitalist countries where life is grievous.
"It is clear in advance that in the Soviet Union as in the West those who will fall into the claws of the jailer will be chiefly working women, servants, peasant wives, who find it hard to conceal their troubles. As far as concerns “our women”, who furnish the demand for fine perfumes and other pleasant things, they will, as formerly, do what they find necessary under the very nose of an indulgent judiciary. “We have need of people”, concludes Soltz, closing his eyes to the homeless. “Then have the kindness to bear them yourselves”, might be the answer to the high judge of millions of toiling women, if the bureaucracy had not sealed their lips with the seal of silence. These gentlemen have, it seems, completely forgotten that socialism was to remove the cause which impels woman to abortion, and not force her into the “joys of motherhood” with the help of a foul police interference in what is to every woman the most intimate sphere of life" (Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, London, Faber and Faber, 1937, 144‑145).
This is how all women today must respond to the priest, the policeman, or their own man who, out of cowardice, adapts and submits to the bourgeois rules, above all because his son will not be his burden. This means that in bourgeois society everything is at peace because everything is in function of capital; limiting births as well as encouraging them serves only to increase profits. This is why there is no such thing as preventive medicine, since it could only involve the entire social and productive sphere and therefore the aims pursued by the class that holds power. To have a legal abortion is no more dangerous than to have legally a tooth removed. If the extraction of teeth were prohibited, there would be thousands of deaths due to clandestine dental practices. Only, since abortion is linked to maintaining the oppression of women through the maintenance of the family, it is prohibited, and therefore made a thousand times more dangerous.
Of course, abortion is a sad right – as Trotsky says – because millions of women are truly forced to give up the joys of motherhood, and every human being suffers if only one of their organic activities is prevented. In socialism, as it will be possible to prevent and minimize dental caries (just to keep up with our example) so, we will try to prevent opportunities for abortion. As a transitional phase we are fighting for free, no‑cost abortion and we will apply it where we can gain power, to bring it at least to the level of a legal dental extraction.
This does not mean “socialism” but reduction of the suffering of the proletarian humanity, the first task of every communist.
One more word on this subject: one must not think that socialism will be the cold and mechanical submission of individual needs to the general needs of society that would justify itself by calling itself “of species”. If, for example, we were to say that the women of socialism will give birth every time it is imposed on them by the socialist organization, nothing would be done. On the contrary, it is precisely in socialism that the individual will find his full realization even in the inevitable personal differentiations, the full and free expression of his individuality, and only socialism can eliminate the contradiction between individual and society.
We quote further Bebel on this subject:
"Even at present, most women have an aversion against a too numerous progeny, and this aversion is likely to increase rather than decrease, regardless of the care that a Socialistic society will bestow upon pregnant women and mothers. This is the main reason why, in our opinion, the increase of population is likely to progress more slowly in Socialistic society than it does in bourgeois society.
"Our Malthusians assuredly have no cause to rack their brains in regard to the increase of population in the future. Until now, nations have been ruined by a diminution of their numbers, but never yet by an excess. In a society, living according to natural laws, the number of the population will ultimately be regulated without harmful abstinence or unnatural preventive measures" (Bebel, 498).
In the socialist State, therefore, women will be free to have children or not, they will not be forced to abort or give birth as in bourgeois society. The law on the liberalization of abortion appropriate to the proletarian party will not at some point be “repealed” but will spontaneously fall into disuse when the material conditions of social organization allow it; in the same way the bourgeois family, supplanted by community life in all its forms, will become extinct. The children will no longer weigh on the mothers, but the mothers will be able to remain with their own children if they wish, finally expressing an authentic maternal feeling, since it is no longer produced by selfishness towards their own offspring, no longer deformed by the obscene practice of starving the children of others to feed and fatten their own.
Further, as Kollontai writes:
"Working mothers have no need to be alarmed; communists do not intend to take children away from their parents or to tear the baby from the breast of its mother, and neither is it planning to take violent measures to destroy the family. No such thing! The aims of communist society are quite different. Communist society sees that the old type of family is breaking up, and that all the old pillars which supported the family as a social unit are being removed: the domestic economy is dying, and working-class parents are unable to take care of their children or provide them with sustenance and education. Parents and children suffer equally from this situation. Communist society has this to say to the working woman and working man: “You are young, you love each other. Everyone has the right to happiness. Therefore live your life. Do not flee happiness. Do not fear marriage, even though under capitalism marriage was truly a chain of sorrow. Do not be afraid of having children. Society needs more workers and rejoices at the birth of every child. You do not have to worry about the future of your child; your child will know neither hunger nor cold” (...)
"There is no escaping the fact: the old type of family has had its day. The family is withering away not because it is being forcibly destroyed by the State, but because the family is ceasing to be a necessity. The State does not need the family. because the domestic economy is no longer profitable: the family distracts the worker from more useful and productive labor. The members of the family do not need the family either, because the task of bringing up the children which was formerly theirs is passing more and more into the hands of the collective. In place of the old relationship between men and women. a new one is developing: a union of affection and comradeship, a union of two equal members of communist society, both of them free, both of them independent and both of them workers. No more domestic “bondage” for women. No more inequality within the family. No need for women to fear being left without support and with children to bring up.
"The woman in communist society no longer depends upon her husband but on her work. It is not in her husband but in her capacity for work that she will find support. She need have no anxiety about her children. The workers’ State will assume responsibility for them. Marriage will lose all the elements of material calculation which cripple family life. Marriage will be a union of two persons who love and trust each other. Such a union promises to the working men and working women, who understand themselves and the world around them, the most complete happiness and the maximum satisfaction. Instead of the conjugal slavery of the past, communist society offers women and men a free union which is strong in the comradeship which inspired it. Once the conditions of labor have been transformed and the material security of the working women has increased, and once marriage such as the church used to perform it – this so‑called indissoluble marriage which was at bottom merely a fraud – has given place to the free and honest union of men and women who are lovers and comrades" (Kollontai, 257‑259).
This hymn to love and to the defense of life, expressed not by hypocritical bourgeois poets or mercenary objectors but by a militant revolutionary in the midst of the struggle, concludes the analysis of the condition of women in bourgeois society and of the demands indispensable for their emancipation, or rather, for the liberation of all of humanity from the prehistory of humanity that is capitalist society.
Now it remains to be seen how the party intends to organize these masses of super-exploited people in order to lead them in the revolutionary struggle together with the whole proletariat towards the conquest of power.
As we have tried to demonstrate in the course of the discussion, the party’s practical attitude towards women’s claims is the same as it is towards wage claims, which in legal terms can be defined as the right to eat, to survive, and is destined to become the most powerful lever of revolutionary mobilization. The defense of wages, due to which many reproach us for opportunism for in such a way we “recognize” the bourgeois society, is this not a special tactic studied at the table as the most suitable to win, but flows directly from the purpose of communism to free the exploited from need; the immediate demands have the dual purpose of mobilizing the entire class on common goals and reducing their immediate suffering. Proletarians must eat every day or die from work! For this reason they are obliged to fight for immediate claims in a defensive struggle against capitalism.
It is in the course of this, initially defensive, struggle that the proletarians will realize that if they want to definitively affirm their right to life they will have to progress to an armed attack against the regime itself and to overthrow all coercive means that stand in the way of the realization of their needs, first of all the bourgeois State. That is why there is no contradiction between the wage demands indispensable to the daily survival of millions of men and the final goal of communism, which provides for the end of the wage form of work and is the cause of this exploitation.
It is precisely for this reason that engaging in the struggle to obtain everything that is claimed by the exploited and by all the oppressed within bourgeois society on the social level is not “opportunist”, even if these are claims that only communism can really implement; it does not mean recognizing bourgeois society, on the contrary it means a declaration of war.
As far as the question of women is concerned, the essential condition for this conflict lies in the determination of the class, in foreseeing from the beginning the direct and armed clash against the upper classes and their regime, and it is this practical approach that will inevitably allow discrimination between the various layers and classes that can seem to move homogeneously. In this field, therefore, no demand is to be postponed to “after the revolution”, precisely because the revolution is nothing more than the mobilization of all the exploited, determined by the impossibility of the bourgeoisie to really satisfy these needs. In the same way, against the “revolution in stages”, supported by those who are content with “minimum legal reforms” considered still a step forward waiting for the communist Olympus, but fierce competition against the bourgeoisie and its opportunist servants on the right and left, making our the same social claims flaunted by the regime, but in a classist and revolutionary sense (3).
We echo Bebel’s introduction to Woman and Socialism:
"Our goal then is, not only to achieve equality of men and women under the present social order, which constitutes the sole aim of the bourgeois woman’s movement, but to go far beyond this, and to remove all barriers that make one human being dependent upon another, which includes the dependence of one sex upon the other. This solution of the woman question is identical with the solution of the social question. They who seek a complete solution of the woman question must, therefore, join hands with those who have inscribed upon their banner the solution of the social question in the interest of all mankind".
Bebel concludes by recognizing that
"there can be no liberation of mankind without social independence and equality of the sexes" (Bebel, 7).
Zetkin comments that:
"This insight does not lead Bebel to the erroneous conclusion that the demand for equal rights for women should be postponed to the future state, however pleasant such an evasion might have been for some short-sighted opportunists in the ranks of social democracy. At the Gotha Unification Congress in 1875, for example, Bebel had already established the right to vote for women and men as a requirement for the program. The first leader of the class-conscious German proletariat proclaimed the struggle for full equality of the female sex as a matter for the proletariat and a task for the present. Not only did he commit the male proletarians to this struggle, he also called on women to fight for their own emancipation in the organized ranks of the working class in the struggle for socialism" (Zetkin, Zur Geschichte der proletarischen Frauenbewegung Deutschlands, Verlag Roter Stern, 1971).
Lenin, in his conversations with Clara Zetkin, reiterates the need for this struggle in general, but he also points out that it is not only a question of beating adversarial theses such as feminism, etc., but first of all of convincing the same male comrades who, hiding behind political anti‑feminism, resist the acceptance of immediately organizing women for their struggle for emancipation. Deterministically, not a few communists warn – consciously or not – that they have something to lose on this ground, namely their privileged position as males. This makes them “sincerely” obtuse and reluctant to accept the party’s approach, and they label with “feminism” everything that is proposed in favor of women:
"Agitation and propaganda work among women, their awakening and revolution, is regarded as an incidental matter, as an affair which only concerns women comrades. They alone are reproached because work in that direction does not proceed more quickly and more vigorously. That is wrong, quite wrong! Real separatism and as the French say, feminism à la rebours, feminism upside down! What is at the basis of the incorrect attitude of our national sections? In the final analysis it is nothing but an under-estimation of woman and her work. Yes, indeed! Unfortunately it is still true to say of many of our comrades, “scratch a Communist and find a Philistine”. Of course, you must scratch the sensitive spot, their mentality as regards woman" (Zetkin, Reminiscences of Lenin, 67‑68).
And we can add today, not so much the “view” that many men who call themselves “feminists” have of the woman but the practical effects that would personally come to them from a class-based awakening of women!
"Could there be a more damning proof of this than the calm acquiescence of men who see how women grow worn out in the petty, monotonous household work, their strength and time dissipated and wasted, their minds growing narrow and stale, their hearts beating slowly, their will weakened? Of course, I am not speaking of the ladies of the bourgeoisie who shove on to servants the responsibility for all household work, including the care of children. What I am saying applies to the overwhelming majority of women, to the wives of workers and to those who stand all day in a factory.
"So few men – even among the proletariat – realize how much effort and trouble they could save women, even quite do away with, if they were to lend a hand in “woman’s work”. But no, that is contrary to the “right and dignity of a man”. They want their peace and comfort. The home life of the woman is a daily sacrifice to a thousand unimportant trivialities. The old master right of the man still lives in secret (...) Our communist work among the women, our political work, embraces a great deal of educational work among men. We must root out the old “master” idea to its last and smallest root, in the Party and among the masses. That is one of our political tasks, just as is the urgently necessary task of forming a staff of men and women comrades, well trained in theory and practice, to carry on Party activity among working women" (Ibid., 68‑69).
As we can see, Lenin did not see the female question as an accessory of the class struggle; he considered the full and real equality of women in all fields an indisputable principle of communism.
Lenin then went on to describe in broad terms the communist tactics regarding the women’s question, where the greatest concern must be the need to distinguish oneself from all the other parties and movements, stating that “we must create a powerful international women’s movement, on a clear theoretical basis” (Ibid., 47). Once again the classic “Leninist” teaching returns that there is no revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory.
"We absolutely must create a powerful international women’s movement, founded on a clear and precise theoretical basis (...) It is clear that there can be no good practice without Marxist theory. We Communists must maintain our principles on this issue in all their clarity. We must distinguish ourselves clearly from all other parties".
Lenin further reproaches the party for the delay in putting this issue on the agenda; he explicitly refers to the Second International Congress that “unfortunately” has not found time to take a stand and accuses the commission of dragging things out:
"The thesis [of communist work among women] must clearly point out that real freedom for women is possible only through Communism. The inseparable connection between the social and human position of the woman, and private property in the means of production, must be strongly brought out. That will draw a clear and ineradicable line of distinction between our policy and feminism. And it will also supply the basis for regarding the woman question as a part of the social question, of the workers’ problem, and so bind it firmly to the proletarian class struggle and the revolution" (Ibid., 62).
Here the concept is reiterated, fundamental for distinguishing between the Marxist and the bourgeois approaches, that the oppression of women and all the problems deriving from it, must be traced back to the existence of the classes; that women are slaves not only because they belong to the female sex but because they lack economic and social independence, because they are anchored to the archaic bonds of the domestic economy and of the breeding of their children.
Lenin continues further:
"The Communist women’s movement must itself be a mass movement, a part of the general mass movement. Not only of the proletariat, but of all the exploited and oppressed, all the victims of capitalism or any other mastery (...) No special organizations for women. A woman Communist is a member of the Party just as a man Communist, with equal rights and duties. There can be no difference of opinion on that score. Nevertheless, we must not close our eyes to the fact that the Party must have bodies, working groups, commissions, committees, bureaus or whatever you like, whose particular duty is to arouse the masses of women workers, to bring them into contact with the Party, and to keep them under its influence. That, of course, involves systematic work among them. The poor peasant women, the petty-bourgeois – they, too, are the prey of capitalism, and more so than ever since the war. The unpolitical, unsocial, backward psychology of these women, their isolated sphere of activity, the entire manner of their life – these are facts. It would be absurd to overlook them, absolutely absurd. We need appropriate bodies to carry on work among them, special methods of agitation and forms of organization. That is not feminism, that is practical, revolutionary expediency" (Ibid., 62‑63. Italics ours).
Here Lenin breaks down the long‑standing clash within the party (already denounced by Clara Zetkin) which did not address the problem practically, hiding behind a false revolutionary purism: 1) there must be a mass movement of women influenced and directed by the communists, produced by a specific work of propaganda, agitation and organization of oppressed women; 2) to this end the party must prepare specific tools of elaboration and organization for the work among women that, excluding the bourgeoisie, include not only the workers or the proletariat, but also the poor peasants and the small bourgeoisie.
In fact, domestic slavery and the burden of children weigh and make oppressed the vast majority of women of whom only a part is included in industrial work and therefore in contact with a class environment. Women, in the vast majority, are therefore a thousand times more backward than men because they are victims of capitalism, because in many cases the man himself, whether bourgeois or proletarian, acts with them as master within the family structure and it is up to the party to help them become aware of their social condition of being oppressed and to direct and organize them with specific immediate objectives for the general struggle against capitalism alongside the whole proletariat.
"The rejection of the necessity for separate bodies for our work among the women masses is a conception allied to those of our highly principled and most radical friends of the Communist Workers Party [of Germany]. According to them there must be only one form of organization, workers’ unions. I know that. Many revolutionary but confused minds appeal to principle “whenever ideas are lacking”. That is, when the mind is closed to the sober facts, which must be considered. How do such guardians of “pure principle” square their ideas with the necessities of the revolutionary policy historically forced upon us? All that sort of talk breaks down before inexorable necessity. 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.
"That is why it is right for us to put forward demands favorable to women. That is not a minimum, a reform program in the sense of the Social Democrats, of the Second International. It is not a recognition that we believe in the eternal character, or even in the long duration of the rule of the bourgeoisie and their State. It is not an attempt to appease women by reforms and to divert them from the path of revolutionary struggle. It is not that nor any other reformist swindle. Our demands are practical conclusions which we have drawn from the burning needs, the shameful humiliation of women, in bourgeois society, defenseless and without rights (...)
"Of course, we are concerned not only with the contents of our demands, but with the manner in which we present them. I thought I had made that clear enough. Of course we shan’t put forward our demands for women as though we were mechanically counting our rosary beads. No, according to the prevailing circumstances, we must fight now for this, now for that. And, of course, always in connection with the general interests of the proletariat (...)
"That is, the struggle clearly brings out the differences between us and other Parties, brings out our Communism. It wins us the confidence of the masses of women who feel themselves exploited, enslaved, suppressed, by the domination of the man, by the power of the employer, by the whole of bourgeois society. Betrayed and deserted by all, the working women will recognize that they must fight together with us.
"Must I again swear to you, or let you swear that the struggles for our demands for women must be bound up with the object of seizing power, of establishing the proletarian dictatorship?
"That is our Alpha and Omega at the present time. That is clear, quite clear. But the women of the working people will not feel irresistibly driven into sharing our struggles for the State power if we only and always put forward that one demand, though it were with the trumpets of Jericho. No, no! The women must be made conscious of the political connection between our demands and their own suffering, needs, and wishes. They must realize what the proletarian dictatorship means for them: complete equality with man in law and practice, in the family, in the State, in society; an end to the power of the bourgeoisie….
"It is essential for the Communist Parties, and for their triumph, to rally them on a clear understanding of principle and a firm organizational basis. But don’t let us deceive ourselves. Our national sections still lack a correct understanding of this matter. They are standing idly by while there is this task of creating a mass movement of working women under Communist leadership" (Ibid., 64‑67).
From this last statement “to create a mass movement under the direction of the Communists” we arrive at the theses of the Third Congress of the Communist International that will realize Lenin’s aspiration. The Theses on Methods and Forms of Work among Communist Party Women – included on the following pages – leave a valuable practical directive, a point of reference for the future and resolving forever the theoretical aspect of any controversy within the party.
The Theses – whose clarity exonerates us from further comments – will be reported in full as an appendix to the work that we believe can be considered a complete picture – at least in its essential lines – of the whole female question in the Marxist tradition. We just want to highlight two points, about bourgeois feminism and about reformism, to which it will always be necessary to return forcefully: Pannella [Partito Radicale], the PCI, the current feminist movement, are the same opponents against whom the Theses are expressed and with whom the party will have to measure itself in future battles. In the part dedicated to the “Basic principles”, in Points 4 and 5:
"4. (...) What communism offers women is not offered at all by the capitalist women’s movement. So long as capitalist power and private property still prevail in the capitalist countries, the liberation of women from dependency on men cannot get beyond the right to dispose over her earnings and property and to a voice equal to that of the man in raising the children (...) The right to vote cannot destroy the original causes of women’s enslavement in the family and society (...) Women can achieve genuine, as opposed to formal, equality only in communism. In other words, women of the working masses will be free only when they can take part in ownership of the means of production and distribution and the leadership of society on an equal basis. They must be able to carry out the obligation of labor in the same way as other members of laboring society. In other words, this is possible only when the system of capitalist production has been overturned and replaced by a communist economic structure (...) Communism is simultaneously the goal of the proletariat as a whole. Therefore, the struggle of working women and men must be conducted jointly and in unified fashion, in the interests of both sides.
"5. The Third Congress of the Communist International stresses the basic postulate of revolutionary Marxism that there is no “special women’s question”. For working women to join together with capitalist feminism weakens the struggle of the proletariat. Marxism also stresses that any support by working women to the traitorous policies of the social compromises and opportunists equally weakens the proletariat’s cause. This approach would postpone the social revolution and delay the victory of communism and also the hour of women’s liberation. It is not the united efforts of women of different classes that makes communism possible, but rather the united struggle of all the exploited" (in John Riddell, To the Masses, Proceedings of the Third Congress of the Communist International, 1921, Historical Materialism, 2015, vol. 91, 1011‑1012).
The second Section of the Theses concerns the party’s tactics towards the bourgeois legislative institutions, that is, the use that the communists must make of these institutions and laws, precisely according to the tactics, not yet rejected by the party, of revolutionary parliamentarism. Here it is highlighted once again how the claims of formal rights are not an end but a means of class mobilization.
In the third Section, concerning the political work of the party among women, in the part dedicated to the capitalist countries we read:
"The commissions need to encourage the broad masses of women in the proletariat and the peasantry to utilize their right to vote in parliamentary and other elections by supporting the Communist Party. In so doing, they need to explain how women’s rights are limited with regard to eliminating or easing capitalist exploitation and also to compare the parliamentary system with the soviet order".
The third Section is even more interesting because, while the electoral problem no longer exists as communists nowadays abstain from voting, there is always the problem of laws in favor of the exploited. An example of this as far as women are concerned is the law on abortion which is very topical in Italy, on which everyone has spoken out and on which everyone shamefully points out to women that they should go and vote in favor of parties, or by referendum, for or against. The most “leftist”, or those who believe themselves to be so, have spoken of a “little piece of legislation” that would be “better than nothing”. In short, each party saw the propaganda among women with the aim to compel them inside the bourgeois reformism, well aligned with the most vulgar electoralism.
Fifty years ago, when the party still carried its propaganda inside the legislative institutions, the communists expressed themselves thusly:
"The commissions must strive to involve Communist women in municipal and all other legislative social agencies – in which women can now participate with voice and vote, thanks to the achievement of suffrage – in order to take their party’s revolutionary politics into that arena.
"When participating in the municipal and other legislative bodies of the bourgeois State, Communist women must strictly observe the principles and policies of their party. It cannot and should not be their main goal to win reforms within the bourgeois system. Rather, they should utilize the demands of working women in order to point women toward achieving their demands and defending their interests along the path of revolutionary struggle, of struggle to establish the proletarian dictatorship" (Ibid).
As we can see, the communist method is completely reversed: all immediate claims are ephemeral as long as the bourgeois regime lasts. They can have only one meaning: to start with the immediate necessity to mobilize all the proletariat and all the oppressed in a revolutionary sense, to demonstrate the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat. On the other hand, the direct action of the proletariat is the only weapon able to obtain as many advantages as possible from the single episodes of the class struggle. The eight‑hour law was a victory for the proletariat that forced the bourgeoisie to this “reform”. The gynecologist conscientious objector [doctors who refuse to practice abortion surgery] – just to give an example – and all the reactionary apparatus prepared against abortion – will not be eliminated by the parliamentary battles or by the referendum. They will disappear only if the millions of oppressed women organize themselves to drive them out of power.
Perfectly in line with the theses of the Third Congress of the International is the newspaper Compagna, a practical testimony of the importance that the party gave to the organization of the female masses. In fact, it is the organ of the Communist Party of Italy that in 1922 dealt with propaganda among women. There is published the greeting of the International to the working women:
"You must be the spokespersons for these women who wake up to class consciousness and begin to realize their situation in capitalist society. You must come to them with a newspaper that they understand, which speaks to them, that addresses them (...) Your newspaper that proposes to propagate among women the idea of proletarian emancipation, will soon acquire the sympathy of the female masses of Italy (...) Women who, in addition to family care, have the weight of professional work that creates profit for capital, will be the first to understand your appeal" (Compagna, Rome, March 19, 1922, Il saluto dell’Internazionale alle Lavoratrici d’Italia).
We are particularly interested, however, in highlighting the function of propaganda the newspaper had towards all women who are not working. It is obvious that women workers are the vanguard of the oppressed female masses; not by chance, point a) of the conclusions of the National Conference reported in the April 16th, 1922 issue of Compagna says:
"The main task of communist women is to organize trade unions and to assimilate working women into the ranks of the political party".
But point b) also says:
"Propaganda among proletarian women takes place directly in the unions where they are organized, and the process of assimilation of these women into the party is facilitated by the very reasons why they struggle in the economic union. But there is a numerous category of women (women of the house, peasants, petty-bourgeois) towards whom the work of propaganda and absorption by the communist party can only take place through indirect action. This category of working women can be absorbed, besides with a shrewd and specific work of propaganda, arousing in them the interest around the immediate problems (high prices of food, housing, etc.)" (Compagna, April 16, 1922, La Conferanza di Genova).
In fact, the Theses indicate the necessity of
"public meetings of women workers, employed women of every variety, peasant women, and housewives (...) These meetings take a position on the specific hardships and demands of those present and choose committees on an ad hoc basis that will pursue work on a given question in constant contact with those who elected them and with Communist women’s commissions. Each member of these commissions should establish regular contact with no more than ten women in her neighborhood, to be renewed when the Communist parties and proletarian masses hold major activities (...) They must create and distribute an appropriate and straightforward array of leaflets and pamphlets that can awaken and attract women" (Riddell, 1023).
In this regard, the assessment the party gives of housewives, a numerous stratum who must be won over and organized, is very important to us:
"Housewives still represent one of those categories that are distant and sometimes reluctant to the struggle of the working class. They do not know the nerve-wracking heaviness of monotonous jobs, the exhausting hours, the stubbornness of the bosses, the discipline, the exploitation; therefore the feeling of rebellion against the offensive of masters in them is much more attenuated than in the categories of salaried women.
"Although housewives are not subject to direct capitalist exploitation, it does not mean that their living conditions are better. They are the ones who run the house, and therefore have to provide the indispensable elements of family life, which is not easy when – and this is the condition of almost all proletarian families – wages are not sufficient. They must then resort to all manner of economies, to constant recycling, to all manner of adaptations, and not be mindful of renunciations, of personal sacrifices so that the family stays afloat (...)
"They are a very powerful weapon in the hands of bourgeois society, which knows how to use marvelously. Its emissaries, from the pulpit of the churches, through the newspapers, in the conferences, continuously recommend to the women, in the name of their family peace, of the collective order, to stop the rebellious ideas of their men (...)
"The housewives who suffer all the pains of the proletarian class must make an effort to get out of the narrow circle of ideas and elevate their minds to the interests of their class, even if by caring about this it will be necessary to neglect their personal interests a little; so while the housewives are struggling to repair the holes in their domestic budgets, the bourgeois offensive will make these holes bigger and bigger and they will no longer be able to repair them. The interests of the housewives are closely linked to those of the proletarian class, so they must not leave their ranks" (Compagna, July 23, 1922, Le donne di casa).
The last article we want to quote is entitled Prejudice. It is addressed within the party, to comrades. It proposes the “re‑education” of the men of whom Lenin speaks, whom we have already mentioned, from which comrades cannot in many cases be excluded. It speaks of comrades who even hinder the process of evolution of their women towards the party, but it also rebukes those comrades who pretend that the backwardness of the woman is a “moral choice” or the result of the “congenital” feminine frivolity and not a material condition of oppression of which they are the main beneficiaries, who do nothing materially or spiritually to raise their woman above the narrowness to which domestic life and the labors of the mother lead. As in Engels, in the family the man is the bourgeois and the woman is the proletarian. In order to abolish this social disparity, the family, and therefore the capitalist society must be destroyed. But the redemption of the individual proletarian or communist man from this bourgeois condition, is the immediate action towards his own woman to help her in all possible forms to enter the fight on an equal footing, just as the individual worker belongs to the class only when he abandons his selfish interests as an individual to embrace those of all his fellow workers and fighters.
"These comrades often ensure that their wives move away from the group on the grounds that when a woman forms a family it is absurd that she continues to be a member of a political party, that she must take care of her own home and that the party should not include women, because they are cowardly and weak.
"All this is in stark contrast to communist principles, since our party recognizes that without the participation of the female element the proletariat will hardly be able to carry out a victorious revolution. These comrades do not feel the need to elevate their woman morally, they consider it to be nothing.
"This is a bad thing, however, because if all the conscious comrades, who feel the great faith in them, who are enthusiastic about the idea they profess, could convince their wives, the companions of their life of the goodness of our cause if they feel the urgent need to communicate their enthusiasm to them, they will wake them up with the strength of their faith that illuminates that sleepy indifference that makes women eternally submissive creatures. They must incite their women to join the ranks of the Communist Party, preparing them to take part in the struggle, involving them in the political movement, entrusting them with important tasks, treating them as equal.
"But we she comrades too have duties, we must throw away prejudices, shyness, and rebel against false social conveniences, siding with our males comrades to fight the common struggle, asserting our rights, observing our duties, giving the party our moral and material help. So many tired creatures like us with the weight that oppresses them, that wears them out, would follow with safe and proud sympathy our way of redemption, our way, of our children, of suffering humanity" (Compagna, July 23, 1922, Pregiudizi).
In concluding this work, we would like to reiterate emphatically that we did not intend to outline any tactic with which to compete with parties or sects to gain the sympathy and vote of the oppressed women, but to establish – like for the workers’ question – the inseparable link between immediate action and communism.
Even more exactly: it is precisely from the forecast of the future, of a society without classes, possible through Marxist analysis, which described the path leading to the present situation of women, that we can establish the practical action capable of leading to the purpose.
Without the destruction of property relations, no real liberation of women is possible. It is for this reason that, if right‑wing opportunism, with its reformed family, openly manifests the will to maintain intact the relations between the sexes – and therefore the current structure of society – in equal measure feminism does not leave this bourgeois framework by proposing in an even more exasperated way free competition between the sexes with the misrepresentation of the content that “free love” expresses.
In fact, the right rejection of the monogamous family – even if it were possible for many women – would lead, according to this ideology, to a generalization of the antagonism which, after that among the familiar nuclei thrown one against the other, would be transferred among the millions of individuals – men and women – free, yes, but to fight, to blackmail each other, both on the social and economic level and on the sexual level. This is precisely the meaning of the consequent bourgeois revolution that feminism objectively claims to be a part of, if it could achieve its goals.
"In the society described in our revolutionary programme, paid labor, property and capital are not socialized but abolished" (Il Programma Comunista, October 2‑16, 1959, Commentary of the Manuscripts of 1844, La questione sessuale).
Another quotation from this text by Marx, which opposes vulgar communism with regard to the commonality of women:
"Finally, this movement of opposing universal private property to private property, finds expression in the brutish form of opposing to marriage (certainly a form of exclusive private property) the community of women, in which the woman becomes a piece of communal and common property (...) Just as woman passes from marriage to general prostitution, so the entire world of wealth (that is, of man’s objective substance) passes from the relationship of exclusive marriage with the owner of private property to a state of universal prostitution with the community" (Karl Marx, Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, Collected Works, 1975, vol. 3, 294‑2959 (4).
This is the crude communism still preached today by the petty-bourgeois radicals who, without destroying the mercantile relations that envelop the entire world, claim, changing the forms, to arrive at self‑management, in this case of their own bodies, in the miserable attempt to oppose the atrocious submission of women in the hierarchical monogamous family.
The communist vision does not lie in the middle of these two bourgeois currents but much higher: it does not foresee the generalization of the prostitution of women but the affirmation of “love need of everyone” and therefore the advent of a community that makes useless the accounting method of giving and having also in the relations between the sexes.
To achieve this it is necessary to free not the individual – whether man or woman – but the whole of society from the capitalist form that oppresses it, condemning millions of men in the most ferocious animality, one against the other in all spheres of their activity and therefore also in the sexual sphere and where almost always the love of one is moral misery and oppression for the other.
Faced with today’s sterile society, which produces increasingly exasperated forms of exploitation and inner loneliness, where millions of men live physically close to each other but alien to each other, Marx’s definition of the meaning of human love that will emerge from the victorious revolution is formidable:
"Assume man to be man and his relationship to the world to be a human one: then you can exchange love only for love, trust for trust, etc. (...) If you love without evoking love in return – that is, if your loving as loving does not produce reciprocal love; if through a living expression of yourself as a loving person you do not make yourself a beloved one, then your love is impotent – a misfortune" (Ibid., 326).
1. The Third Congress of the Communist International, together with the International Conference of Communist Women, confirms once again the decisions of the First and Second Congresses that point to the necessity of strengthening the work of Communist parties of the West and East among the female proletariat. This work aims at educating the broad masses of working women in the ideas of communism and drawing them into the struggle for Soviet power and the building of a Soviet republic.
Around the world the working class, and thus also working women, face the essential question of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
The capitalist economic system has landed in a dead end. There is no longer scope for the further development of the productive forces within the capitalist framework. The increasing poverty of working people, the bourgeoisie’s inability to further expand the productive forces, the prevalence of speculation, the decline of production, unemployment, price fluctuations, the gap between wages and prices: all these factors lead inevitably to a sharpening of class antagonisms in every country. This struggle decides who will determine, lead, administer, and organize the system of production, and whether this leadership will be assumed by a handful of bourgeois and exploiters on the basis of capitalism and private property or by the class of producers on the basis of communism.
In accord with the laws of economic development, the new class striving forward – the class of producers – must take control of the productive system in order to create new economic structures. Only in this way will it be possible to maximize the development of productive forces that have previously been held back by the anarchy of the capitalist system of production.
So long as power remains in the hands of the bourgeois class, the proletariat is not able to improve the system of production. So long as power is in the hands of capital, it is not possible to save the situation in a bourgeois country through reforms, whether taken by a democratic or a so‑called socialist government. It is not possible to ease the grave and unbearable suffering of working women and men that results from the decay of the capitalist economic system. Only the seizure of power by the proletariat makes it possible for this class of producers to take possession of the means of production and promote economic development in the interests of working people. In order to hasten the hour of the proletariat’s inevitable decisive struggle against the decayed capitalist world, the working class must hold firmly and without hesitation to the policies laid down by the Third International. The workers’ dictatorship of the proletariat is the immediate goal that determines the methods of work and the direction of the struggle by both men and women of the proletariat.
The Third Congress of the Communist International begins with the proposition that proletarians in all capitalist states now face a struggle for the dictatorship of the proletariat. In countries where workers already possess this dictatorship, the immediate task is to build communism. The Third Congress of the Communist International notes that it is not possible either to win power or to achieve communism in a country where capitalism has already been overthrown, without active support by the broad masses of women of the proletariat and semi-proletariat.
At the same time, the congress directs the attention of all women to the fact that every attempt to free women from servitude and achieve their equality will fail unless they enjoy the support of the Communist parties.
2. Today above all, the interests of the working class urgently require that women be drawn into the organized ranks of the proletariat fighting for communism. As economic dislocation assumes more and more drastic and unbearable forms for the poor people of city and countryside, it becomes increasingly essential for the workers to carry out the social revolution in the capitalist countries. Meanwhile, the workers in Soviet Russia have to rebuild the economy on new communist foundations. Both tasks will be all the easier to carry out to the degree that women take an active, conscious, and determined part in carrying them out.
3. Wherever the question arises of taking power, the Communist parties must properly evaluate the great danger to the revolution represented by the masses of women workers, housewives, office workers, and peasants who have not been encompassed by the movement. They have not been freed from the grip of a capitalist world outlook, the church, and bourgeois prejudices; they have not encountered, in one way or another, the great Communist movement for freedom. The masses of women of the West and East who have not been brought into the movement are a pillar of support to capitalism and are vulnerable to counter-revolutionary propaganda. The experience of the Hungarian revolution, in which large numbers of women who lacked class consciousness played such an unfortunate role, must stand as a warning for proletarians in every country who have taken the road of social revolution.
On the other hand, the experience of the Soviet republic shows the important role played by women workers and peasants both in defending the republic and in every arena of Soviet construction. The facts clearly show the importance of the role played by women workers and peasants in organizing defense behind the battle lines, in the struggle against desertion and against every form of counterrevolution, sabotage, and so on, in the Soviet republic.
The proletariat of other countries must learn from the experience of the proletarian republic.
It follows that the Communist parties face the task of extending the influence of the party and of communism among the broad masses of women in their countries. They must use special, more effective methods that enable them to liberate women from the influence of the capitalist outlook and the compromises, educating them to be true fighters and, in this way, to achieve their true liberation.
4. The Third Congress of the Communist International entrusts the Communist parties of the West and East with the special task of strengthening work among the female proletariat. It also points out to the working women of the entire world that only the victory of communism will open the road to their liberation from servitude and oppression.
What communism offers women is not offered at all by the capitalist women’s movement. So long as capitalist power and private property still prevail in the capitalist countries, the liberation of women from dependency on men cannot get beyond the right to dispose over her earnings and property and to a voice equal to that of the man in raising the children.
The efforts of feminists in countries with parliamentary systems to extend the right to vote to women do not resolve the question of achieving real equality, especially for women of the non‑propertied classes. Workers have learned this in capitalist countries where the bourgeoisie in recent years introduced formal equality of the sexes.
The right to vote cannot destroy the original causes of women’s enslavement in the family and society. Introduction of civil marriage in place of indissoluble marriage in the capitalist countries does not grant women equality in marriage and does not resolve the challenge of mutual relations of the sexes so long as conditions persist where women workers are economically dependent on the capitalist and the male wage earner and where there are no laws protecting mothers and youth and women’s social education. Women can achieve genuine, as opposed to formal, equality only in communism. In other words, women of the working masses will be free only when they can take part in ownership of the means of production and distribution and the leadership of society on an equal basis. They must be able to carry out the obligation of labor in the same way as other members of laboring society. In other words, this is possible only when the system of capitalist production has been overturned and replaced by a communist economic structure.
Only communism creates conditions in which women’s natural function of motherhood does not conflict with her social obligations and her creative labor on behalf of all society. Communism will promote the harmonious and all‑sided development of personality, which is closely and indissolubly linked to the life of the labor collective. All women who strive for women’s liberation and the recognition of their rights must adopt communism as their goal. Communism, however, is simultaneously the goal of the proletariat as a whole. Therefore, the struggle of working women and men must be conducted jointly and in unified fashion, in the interests of both sides.
5. The Third Congress of the Communist International stresses the basic postulate of revolutionary Marxism that there is no “special women’s question”. For working women to join together with capitalist feminism weakens the struggle of the proletariat. Marxism also stresses that any support by working women to the traitorous policies of the social compromises and opportunists equally weakens the proletariat’s cause. This approach would postpone the social revolution and delay the victory of communism and also the hour of women’s liberation.
It is not the united efforts of women of different classes that makes communism possible, but rather the united struggle of all the exploited.
The masses of proletarian women are obliged by their own interests to support the revolutionary tactics and strategy of the Communist parties. They must take part actively and directly in the mass actions and the civil war that is emerging in all its expressions both on a national and an international scale.
6. Women are doubly oppressed, by capitalism and by their dependency in family life. Their struggle against this oppression must take on an international character in the coming period and become a struggle by proletarians of both sexes for the dictatorship of the proletariat and for Soviet construction, waged under the banner of the Third International.
7. The Third Congress of the Communist International warns working women against any collaboration or compromise with the bourgeois feminists. It also underlines that support to women of the Second International or opportunist forces close to it will cause enormous harm to women’s cause and that of the proletariat. Women must never forget that their slavery is rooted in the capitalist structure. Ending this slavery requires a transition to a new form of society.
Support to the Second and Two‑and‑a‑Half Internationals and similar groups obstructs the development of social revolution and thereby also that of a new form of society.
The more decisively that broad masses of women turn away from the Second and Two‑and‑a‑Half Internationals, the more certain is the victory of the social revolution. It is the duty of Communist women to condemn all those who shrink back from the revolutionary policies of the Communist International and to struggle unrelentingly and inexorably to exclude these forces from its united ranks.
Women must bear in mind that the Second International has not made even an attempt to launch a publication dedicated to the struggle for the universal liberation of women. The International Association of Socialist Women, to the extent that it has taken shape at all, was formed outside the framework of the Second International on the independent initiative of working women.
As early as its First Congress, in 1919, the Third International set down specifically its position on the question of drawing women into the struggle for the dictatorship. It was on the initiative of the First Congress that the first conference of women Communists was convened. In 1920 the International Secretariat for Work among Women was founded, with permanent representation in the Executive Committee of the Communist International. It is the duty of all class‑conscious women workers everywhere to break without fail from the Second and Two‑and‑a‑Half Internationals and give whole-heated support to the revolutionary stand of the Communist International.
8. Women workers, peasants, and employees should give expression to their support for the Communist International by joining the Communist Party in their country. In countries and parties in which the struggle between the Second and Third Internationals has not yet been brought to a conclusion, women workers should give full support to the party or group that comes out for the Communist International. They should fight ruthlessly against all wavering or openly traitorous forces, without giving heed to any supposed authorities. Class-conscious proletarian women struggling for their genuine liberation should not stay in parties outside the Communist International.
Any enemy of the Third International is an enemy of women’s liberation.
For purposeful working women of the West and East, there is only one place: under the banner of the Communist International, that is, in the ranks of the Communist Party of their country. Any wavering by working women, any evasion of the struggle against the compromising parties and leaders that call themselves socialist, will have a pernicious effect on the proletariat’s struggle and will endanger its victory in a struggle that is developing into a national and international civil war.
On the basis of the principles described above, the Third Congress of the Communist International resolves that the Communist parties in every country are to conduct their work among the female proletariat along the following lines:
1. Women are to be regarded as members with equal rights of the party and all class organizations (trade unions, cooperatives, factory councils, etc.).
2. It is necessary to recognize that women active in every field of proletarian struggle, not excluding military self‑defense of the proletariat, are to be drawn into the building of new social foundations and the organization of production and life on a communist basis.
3. The role of motherhood must receive recognition as a social function. Efforts are needed to institute and realise measures that protect women in their role as mothers.
The Third Congress of the Communist International is strongly opposed to forming separate, special women’s associations within the party or the trade unions, or in the form of a special women’s organization. However, it nonetheless recognizes the need for the Communist parties to use special methods of work among women. It therefore recognizes that it is appropriate to create special organs to carry out this work inside all Communist parties.
The congress is guided here by the following considerations:
a) Women suffer subjugation in the capitalist countries and also are in a difficult position in the soviet countries that are undergoing a transition from capitalism to communism.
b) A certain passivity and political backwardness is evident among the masses of women, which results from the fact that women have for centuries been excluded from social life and chained to the family.
c) The special social function–motherhood–and the resulting characteristics that nature assigns to women call for greater protection of women’s health and energies in the interests of society.
Based on these considerations, the congress recognizes that it is advisable to create special bodies to carry out work among women. These bodies consist of sections and commissions linked to all party committees, from the party Central Committee down to the city or ward committee. This decision is binding on all parties belonging to the communist International.
The Third Congress of the Communist International considers that the tasks of these sections and commissions are as follows:
1. Educate the broad masses of women in Communist ideas and integrate them into the ranks of the party.
2. Struggle against the prejudices linked to women’s social role and strengthen the awareness of working men and women that proletarians of both sexes share common interests.
3. Strengthen the willpower of women. Draw them into all expressions of the civil war in capitalist countries. Arouse women to activity by drawing them into mass actions and into the struggle against capitalist exploitation (lack of housing, inflation, unemployment, the wretched conditions of children). Pursue the same goal in the soviet republics by drawing women into building a communist economy and way of life.
4. Place on the agenda the questions related to women’s equality and protection of the woman as a mother. Direct the attention of the party and, in soviet countries, the legal authorities, to these issues.
5. Struggle systematically against the power of tradition, bourgeois customs, and religion, in order to promote more healthy and harmonious relations between the sexes, relations capable of assuring the physical and moral vitality of working people.
The party’s leadership bodies must directly lead the work of the commissions [for work among women] and take responsibility for their work.
The head of each commission should be a member of the leading committee. If possible, several Communist men should be members of such a commission.
The commissions should not act on their own to carry out the necessary measures on issues as they arise. Instead, in soviet countries, this should be done through the appropriate economic or political bodies (soviets, commissariats, commissions, trade unions, etc.). In capitalist countries, help should be sought from appropriate bodies of the proletariat (trade unions, councils, etc.).
Wherever Communist parties are illegal or semi‑legal, they will build an underground apparatus for work among women, subordinated and adapted to the underground apparatus of the party. Just as in a legal organization, an underground party needs a woman comrade in each local, district, or central committee who is responsible for leading underground propaganda work among women.
The main arena for Communist Party work among women at this time is the trade unions, production collectives, and cooperatives. This is true both in countries where the struggle to overthrow capitalism is under way and in the soviet workers’ republics.
Work among women must be carried out with respect for the unity of the party as a movement and of its structures, and also with respect for the independent initiatives of the commissions. This applies to all initiatives for complete liberation and equality of women, which are to be carried out fully by the party. The goal is not to duplicate the party’s work but rather to expand it through women’s creative self‑activity and initiative.
The task of the women’s sections in a soviet workers’ republic is to educate the broad masses of women in Communist ideas and win them to the Communist Party. These sections have to arouse and raise women’s self‑activity and initiative by drawing women into the work of building communism and educating them as steadfast partisans of the Communist International.
The women’s sections must strive in every way possible to draw women into every arena of soviet construction, beginning with defense and including their involvement in the republic’s diverse economic projects.
The women’s sections in the Soviet republic must ensure implementation of the decisions of the Eighth Congress of Soviets [December 1920] regarding drawing women workers and peasants into construction and organization of the economy and women’s involvement in all bodies that deal with the organization, supervision, and direction of production.
The women’s sections must take part, through their representatives and through party bodies, in the drafting of demands for new laws for the economic liberation of women and for modification of existing measures with his purpose. The sections must show particular initiative in drafting laws relating to protection of women and young people at work.
Women’s sections are obliged to rally the greatest possible number of women workers and peasants for campaigns around the soviet elections and to ensure that women workers and peasants become members of the soviets and their executive committees.
Women’s sections must make efforts to ensure that all the political and economic campaigns undertaken by the party are carried through rapidly and successfully.
Women’s sections have the task of improving the quality of women’s work by more effective trade‑union training and of ensuring that women workers and peasants have access to the appropriate educational institutions.
Women’s sections must ensure that women join the commissions for protection of labor in individual enterprises and must help promote the work of commissions for protection of women and youth.
Women’s sections must help strengthen the entire network of social institutions (public orphanages, laundries, repair shops, communal residences, institutions for social care) that provide new Communist foundations for everyday life, ease the hardships women experience during this transition period, promote women’s economic independence, and transform the slave of the home and family into a free partner in creating new forms of living.
The women’s sections must ensure that women trade‑union members are educated in the ideas of communism, in which they can draw on the assistance of groups for work among women formed by the Communist fractions in the trade unions.
The women’s sections must ensure that women factory workers attend meetings of factory delegates.
The sections are responsible to plan the allocation of women delegates – practitioners – to different tasks in the soviets, in economic work, and in the unions.
Women’s sections of the party must work above all to develop deep roots among the women workers and closer contact with housewives, office workers, and small‑peasant women.
The women’s sections convene delegated conferences of women workers in order to strengthen the party’s ties with the masses, to spread its influence among the non‑party masses, and to pursue systematic education of masses of women in the ideas of communism through independent activity and participation in practical work. Delegated assemblies are the best means to educate women workers and peasants. Through these delegates, the party’s influence can spread among the broad masses of non‑party and backward women workers and peasants.
These assemblies are composed of women representatives from factories of a given district, city, or rural area (for delegated meetings of peasant women), or neighborhood (for delegates of housewives). In Soviet Russia, women delegates are drawn into political and economic campaigns of every description. Women are delegated to take part in commissions of various types in the workplace. They are involved in supervision of Soviet state administration. Finally, by the law adopted in 1921, they take part in the ongoing work of Soviet departments as practitioners delegated for two months. Women delegates are chosen in general assemblies of a workshop or of housewives, according to a procedure set by the party. The women’s sections must carry out propaganda and agitation work among the women delegates, and the sections meet for this purpose at least twice a month. Delegates, elected for a three‑month term, are required to give a report on their activity to their workshop or to neighborhood meetings. The second form of agitation among the masses of women is through conferences of non‑party women workers and peasants. Delegates to these conferences are elected by meetings of women workers in an enterprise or of women peasants in rural areas. Women’s sections are responsible for calling these conferences and leading them. In order to reinforce the experiences of women workers in the practical work of the party and its activities, the women’s sections conduct systematic and broad propaganda, both through publications and in person. The sections hold assemblies, discussions, and meetings of women workers in the enterprise or of housewives in a neighborhood. They organize delegated meetings and carry out door‑to‑door agitation. Sections for work among women must be formed to develop working women as cadres and to strengthen work in Soviet schools at both the central and local levels.
The immediate tasks of commissions for work among women are determined by the objective situation. On the one hand, we have the decay of the world economy, the immense increase in unemployment (expressed particularly in a decline in the demand for women workers), the growth of prostitution, inflation, the housing shortage, the threat of new imperialist wars. On the other hand, we see incessant economic strikes by workers, repeated attempts by the proletariat at armed insurrection, and the looming prospect of world‑wide civil war. All this is the prologue to inevitable world social revolution.
The commissions of working women must stress the tasks posed for proletarian struggle, advance the slogans of the Communist Party as a whole, and draw women into participation in Communist revolutionary activity against the bourgeoisie and the social traitors.
The commissions must ensure that women are integrated into the party, the unions, the cooperatives, and other class organizations as members with equal rights and obligations. They must oppose any separating out of women workers or any special status for them. What is more, the commissions must promote the integration of working women as collaborators with equal rights in the leading bodies of the party, the unions, and the cooperatives.
The commissions need to encourage the broad masses of women in the proletariat and the peasantry to utilize their right to vote in parliamentary and other elections by supporting the Communist Party. In so doing, they need to explain how women’s rights are limited with regard to eliminating or easing capitalist exploitation and also to compare the parliamentary system with the soviet order.
The commissions must also ensure that women workers, employees, and peasants take part with energy and class awareness in the elections of worker deputies to revolutionary economic and political councils. They must strive to succeed in arousing the housewife to political activity and popularizing the idea of councils among the women peasants in particular.
The commissions face a special task in applying the principle of equal pay for equal work.
The commissions need to win working men and women for a campaign for free and generally available vocational schooling, in order to increase the skills of women workers.
The commissions must strive to involve Communist women in municipal and all other legislative social agencies – in which women can now participate with voice and vote, thanks to the achievement of suffrage – in order to take their party’s revolutionary politics into that arena.
When participating in the municipal and other legislative bodies of the bourgeois state, Communist women must strictly observe the principles and policies of their party. It cannot and should not be their main goal to win reforms within the bourgeois system. Rather, they should utilize the demands of working women in order to point women toward achieving their demands and defending their interests along the path of revolutionary struggle, of struggle to establish the proletarian dictatorship.
The commissions should maintain close contact with the party fractions in parliament and municipal councils, consulting jointly on all issues affecting women. The commissions must make clear to women that the system of separate home economies is backward and impractical, while capitalist methods of bringing up children are imperfect. They should direct the attention of working women to practical methods of improving workers’ home life proposed and supported by the party.
The commissions must make every effort to win women trade‑union members for the Communist Party. To this end the trade‑union fractions should appoint organizers for work among women, functioning under the leadership of the party and the local sections.
The commissions for agitation among women should encourage proletarian women in the cooperatives to spread the ideas of communism, enter their leadership, and influence their functioning, since these organizations will be of great importance in organizing distribution of goods during and after the revolution. The entire work of the commissions must aim to develop the masses’ revolutionary activity and thus to hasten the revolution.
In countries where industry is little developed, the Communist parties and the women’s sections must together seek to achieve recognition of women’s equal status, in both rights and duties, by the party, the trade unions, and the other organizations of the working class.
Sections of the commission must conduct a vigorous struggle against all prejudices, customs, and religious practices that bear down on women. This agitation should also be addressed to men.
The Communist Party and the sections of its commissions must apply the principle of women’s equal status to the raising of children, family relations, and public life.
The sections must try to win support among the exploited working women engaged in small shops, cottage industries, and rice, cotton, and other plantations. Wherever possible–and this applies mainly to the Eastern peoples living in the territory of Soviet Russia–the sections should seek to establish cooperative workplaces and industries and draw the plantation workers into the trade unions.
The best means of struggle against the backwardness of the country and religious prejudices is to raise the overall cultural level of the population. The commissions must seek to speed the development of schools for adults and children. Women must win admission to these schools. In the capitalist countries, women must wage a struggle against bourgeois influence in the schools.
Wherever possible, the women’s sections or commissions must conduct their agitation inside the home. Clubs for working women should be established that aim above all to influence the most backward layers of women. The clubs should be centers of cultural enlightenment, showing in life what women can achieve through their self‑activity (establishing homes for children, kindergartens, schools, etc.) for their liberation.
Mobile clubs should be established for nomadic peoples.
In the soviet countries, sections should work together with the party to promote the transition from a pre‑capitalist economy to a collective mode of production. Working women should be convinced through practical experience that the domestic economy and previous family relationships enslave them, while collective labor will liberate them.
The women’s sections working among the peoples of the East in Soviet Russia should see to it that Soviet legislation – which assures women of legal equality with men and protects women’s interests – is actually observed. The sections should therefore support the appointment of women as judges and jury members.
The sections must draw women into the soviet elections and work to assure that women become members of soviets and their executive committees. Work among women workers of the East must be carried out on the basis of class principles. The sections have the task of explaining to women the futility of feminist efforts in resolving the woman question. In countries of the Soviet East, women intellectuals, such as teachers, should be drawn into educational work.
The sections or commissions must strictly avoid tactless, inappropriate, or rude attacks on religious beliefs or national traditions, while still resisting the influence of nationalism and religion.
In both the West and East, organizations of working women should not identify with national interests but should rather be instruments for the unification of the international proletariat of both sexes and should carry out tasks shared by the entire class.
Given the particular importance of work among women of the East, special instructions are appended to these theses, setting down the guidelines for work among these women while taking into account the specific conditions of everyday life among Eastern peoples.
In order to carry out the primary task of the sections – Communist education of the broad masses of proletarian women – and thus to expand the ranks of Communist fighters, it is necessary for all Communist parties of the West and East to adopt the basic principle of work among women: agitation and propaganda through action.
Agitation through action means above all the ability to arouse the self‑activity of working women, reinforce their confidence in their own capacities, and – by drawing them into practical work either for construction or struggle – to convince them that every success of the Communist Party, every action against capitalist exploitation, represents a step toward improving the status of women. Practical work and action leads to understanding of communism’s ideals and its theoretical principles. That is the spirit in which Communist parties and their sections should approach the broad masses of working women.
To the extent that the sections are vehicles for propaganda not merely of the word but of the deed, they must be based on Communist cells inside the factories and workplaces. They must ensure that every Communist cell has an organizer of work among women in the factory.
The sections must, through their representatives, establish ties with the trade unions, ties sustained by the trade‑union fractions and working under the leadership of the sections.
In Soviet Russia, propaganda through deeds for the ideas of communism means drawing women workers and peasants, housewives, and women employees into every area of Soviet construction, from the army and militia to activities for the liberation of women (communal kitchens, institutions of social education, protection of motherhood, etc.). It is particularly important at present to draw working women into all the efforts to rebuild the economy.
In the capitalist countries, propaganda through the deed means drawing women workers into participation in strikes, demonstrations, and uprisings, which consolidate and strengthen revolutionary willpower and consciousness. It also means drawing them into party work of every variety, from underground tasks (especially regarding communications) to the organizing of Communist Saturdays or Sundays, through which sympathetic women workers and employees learn to be of use to the party through voluntary work.
The goal of propaganda through the deed is also served by drawing women into all political, economic, and cultural educational campaigns initiated by the Communist Party. Women’s committees in the Communist parties must extend their activity to increasingly broad layers of the exploited and socially enslaved women of the capitalist countries. In the soviet countries, this applies to women oppressed by survivals of the old order. The commissions need to respond to all the hardships and evils, all the interests and demands, that display capitalism to women as a deadly enemy to be overcome and communism as a force to be welcomed as their liberator.
To carry out systematic agitation and propaganda work through the spoken word, women’s commissions organize meetings in the factory or neighborhood and public gatherings of women workers, employees, and civil servants, organized by trade or by district, whether through general open meetings of women or in other ways.
They have their agitation and organizational representatives in the Communist fractions in the trade unions, cooperatives, factory councils, and in all the working, administrative, supervisory, and leading organs of the soviet system. This applies, in short, to all organizations in the capitalist countries that must be made useful in winning the exploited and oppressed masses to revolution and in their struggle to win political power, and, in the soviet states, all organizations that defend the proletarian dictatorship and pursue the realization of communism.
They choose experienced Communist women to serve as workers or employees in factories and enterprises in which many women are employed. They establish such comrades in large proletarian districts or centers, as has been done successfully in Soviet Russia.
The women’s committees of the Communist Party of Soviet Russia have worked to hold the extraordinarily useful delegated meetings and conferences of non‑party women. So too, the commissions of Communist women in the capitalist countries hold public meetings of women workers, employed women of every variety, peasant women, and housewives. These meetings take a position on the specific hardships and demands of those present and choose committees on an ad hoc basis that will pursue work on a given question in constant contact with those who elected them and with Communist women’s commissions.
Each member of these commissions should establish regular contact with no more than ten women in her neighborhood, to be renewed when the Communist parties and proletarian masses hold major activities.
The women’s commissions of the Communist parties are instructed to use the written word in carrying out their agitation, organizational, and educational activity. They should work toward publication of a national Communist women’s newspaper, inclusion of women’s pages or discussions among women in the Communist newspapers, and articles and contributions in the political and trade‑union papers. They should choose women to serve as editors of these publications and recruit and train collaborators for them from the ranks of women on the job and in the struggle. They must create and distribute an appropriate and straightforward array of leaflets and pamphlets that can awaken and attract women.
The commissions should work for women party members to make energetic use of all the educational institutions and materials of the Communist parties. In order to clarify and deepen the understanding and strengthen the willpower of Communist women who are still backward and timid, as well as employed women who are awakening to consciousness, they should draw these women into the party’s general study sessions and discussions. Only where there are compelling reasons should they create their own educational institutions, such as reading circles, evenings of discussion, courses, and lectures.
In order to strengthen solidarity between working women and men, it is desirable not to organize separate courses and schools. Instead, every party school should include a compulsory course on the methods of work among women.
The commission has the right to delegate a number of its members to the party school.
Every party local unit, regional committee, and central committee will establish commissions for agitation among women.
The number of members of the commissions should correspond to the needs of the particular country. The party will also determine the number of paid collaborators.
The leader of the women’s agitation commission both nationally and in regional and local groups has voice and vote in the corresponding national, regional, and local party leaderships. The leader of such a commission should also be a member of the local party leadership. Where this is not the case, the commission leader should take part in all leadership discussions of questions affecting the women’s section with decisive vote, and on all other questions with consultative vote.
In addition to these general tasks, the regional or provincial commissions have the following functions: maintaining a link between the women’s agitation commission of a given region and the regional leadership; collecting materials regarding the commission’s activity in its region; ensuring that local commissions exchange materials; supplying the region with publications; assigning agitation resources to different parts of the region; mobilizing party members for work among women; convening (at least twice a year) regional conferences of Communist women, with one or two delegates from each commission; and holding conferences of non‑party women workers and peasants and housewives in the region.
Regional commissions should consist of five to seven members, proposed by the commission leader and confirmed by the chair of the district leadership. The leader and all other members of the district or regional commissions are elected by the respective party conferences.
The members of regional or local commissions are elected by regional, district, or city conferences, or by the relevant commission in consultation with the party leadership.
The national commission for work among women consists of two to five members, of which one is paid by the party.
In addition to the functions listed above for the regional commissions, the national commission (national women’s committee) has to do the following: supervise the work of commissions; lead and assign the members working among women; supervise the nature and development of work by women, taking into account women’s legal and economic conditions; assign authorized representatives of the national commission to take part in special commissions that address issues of improving or altering workers’ living conditions, laws, industrial health and safety standards, and the protection of children; publication of the national and women’s newspapers and editorship of the women’s publications and women’s pages; convening women’s representatives of all regions at least once a year; organization of groups to instruct agitators regarding work among women across the country; supervision of the recruitment of women workers and their assignment to commissions taking part in the party’s various political and economic campaigns; maintenance of ongoing ties with the International Secretariat of Communist Women; holding an annual International Women’s Day.
If the leader of the women’s commission of the central committee is not a member of that committee, this comrade has the right to attend all central committee sessions, with decisive vote on all questions affecting the commission, and otherwise with consultative vote. The chair of the commission is chosen by the party central committee or national congress. Decisions and instructions of all commissions must be ratified by the appropriate party committee.
The International Women’s Secretariat of the Communist International has the tasks of leading the [women’s] work of all Communist parties, rallying working women in struggle for the tasks posed by the Communist International, and drawing working women in every country into the revolutionary struggle for soviet power and the dictatorship of the working class on a world scale.
The number of members of the national commission with decisive and consultative vote will be determined by the party central committee.
We are posting the following article from 1912. In its explanation and condemnation of legalistic and democratic bourgeois feminism, which opposes the socialist women’s movement, it fits in full continuity with the Marxist interpretation of the oppression of women in the modern world,.
It mentions the publication “Difesa delle Lavoratrici ” of the Italian Socialist Party, which was, at the time, the party of the working class. The publication is certainly worth researching as we recently did with “Compagna”, the organ of the Communist Party of Italy for propaganda among women.
Since then, in many countries the legal status of women has come very close to equality with males, something that the article was already predicting: upper middle class women have become “like men”, they lord it over the proletariat like the males of their class. Equality has been gained in inheritance and divorce laws and both spouses can abandon the “domestic home” (if they can afford it).
Within the State, female ministers, presidents and officials at all levels prove to be just as efficient in combating the proletariat as their male “colleagues”. However, the presence of women "in power" has not produced any real social legislation in defense of working women.
It is because amongst women’s work, that of maternity, a vital primary function that capitalism can never emancipate from submission to the petty and narrow mercantile relationships, is considered to be on a level even below the wage system, not being remunerated, that is, socially recognized. Liberated motherhood, which encompasses its opposite, the right to abortion, is misunderstood when not suppressed, effectively always, and sometimes even by law, and whose burden falls entirely on the woman even in the most democratic and modern countries, but inevitably bourgeois and capitalistic.
From "L’Avanguardia" of 27 October 1912
The movement that goes everywhere affirming itself deserves the attention and study of the socialists. In Italy too we are witnessing a revival of the women’s movement, and in the proletarian field it is directed by that group of valiant companions who publishes the Defense of the Women Workers, a periodical to which every true socialist must wish for the greatest development, to the spread of which we must all contribute.
Let’s say right away that the set of trends that are understood under the name of feminism, and culminates in the aspiration for universal suffrage, is not the same as the movement among socialist women, which is just beginning. Especially the principle of seeking partisans to vote for women in every political party, supported by bourgeois feminists, cannot be accepted by the socialists, representing a danger of class collaboration, and therefore cannot be reconciled with the fundamental characteristics of the socialist movement. And our companions Defense are keen not to go for “feminists”, and with reason.
But this does not mean that we need to be disinterested in feminism, far from it. Instead, it must be argued that gender equality is an essential part of the socialist program, that it cannot be achieved before the abolition of individual property, and that bourgeois feminism is on a false path which cannot lead it to successes that come from some passenger triumph.
Thus revealing the truly revolutionary soul of feminism, we will induce the best elements of this movement to come to us, and to abandon that not very serious people, made up of bourgeois ladies and young ladies, more or less intellectual, who would like to reach the vote for women conquering with their tender smiles half plus one of the 508 members of parliament who can grant it. It is therefore necessary to propagate in the female environment the thesis that the claim of the woman cannot take place in a society based, like the present one, on private property. Thus a good part of educated and intelligent women, belonging to that middle class which, in its male element, becomes more and more anti-socialist, can be conquered by revolutionary propaganda and be of precious help for the organization of the female proletariat.
At the same time, it is necessary to popularize the female question among the socialists, inducing the comrades and the organized ones to carry out active propaganda within the families, to destroy the bourgeois and conservative prejudice of female inferiority in the socialist proletariat.
To prove that the capitalist bourgeoisie will always be against feminism is not a difficult task. The class that has the monopoly of the means of production preserves it and transmits it through the successions and inheritances in the male line, and therefore guarantees the continuation of its monopoly through a series of legal provisions that represent a true tyranny of sex. In possessing classes the family now has only the value of the means of transmission of individual property; it is the family-owned business that suffocates the domestic hearth of romantic memory, and the capitalist class (which knows how to stop internal competition struggles when it comes to fighting a common danger) sees the very rare business entrusted to women, and the fights with legal provisions.
So the bourgeoisie will never accept women’s collaboration in the formulation of the law. It is true that some countries have already granted the vote to women, but they are limited cases of exception. On the other hand, women want the vote not as an extreme end of their agitation, but as a means of having all social legislation in defense of women.
Well, even the most advanced democracy hesitates to launch into this field. Changing the legal order of the family is dangerous for the whole edifice of capitalist society, and democracy, which is nothing but a historical attitude of conservatives who say they are evolutionists to ward off the revolution, hesitates and promises little to keep anything. Get to divorce or a little further. And divorce only mitigates a woman’s legal and moral inferiority.
The emancipation of the female sex is not a reform achievable within the present institutions, but an essentially achievement revolutionary. Only a party truly subversive, like the socialist party, can write it in its flag.
Male tyranny is based on the fact that the male is not responsible for the fruit of sexual intercourse, he is not obliged to maintain his offspring. This is why the woman who grants herself asks for a legal guarantee of maternity (marriage), or even a quota (I would say almost) of insurance against the risk of being a mother, and we have prostitution. The fundamental physiognomy of the two facts is the same, outside of any moral prejudice, and is resolved in a very simple conclusion: in today’s society, love is essentially reduced to an economic relationship buy-sell.
Marx showed that work is subject like any other commodity to the laws of supply and demand. A similar theory could be developed on merchandise-love.
And also in this field one can demonstrate the existence of a surplus value, which represents the exploitation of the male on the female, analogous to that of capital on wage earners.
A detailed analysis would show that no form of sexual intercourse can escape these laws. We can be called vulgar, but this does not shift our objectivity.
Socialism has already disturbed the “poetry” of those who wanted to enjoy without the stench that rises from the dung heap of the exploited reaching its delicate nostrils. And we will be able to tell those sentimental and intellectual young people who will accuse us of “cynicism” that they direct the best part of their activity precisely to this noble purpose: to love without paying.
The cause of female inferiority is therefore to be found in the economic constitution of society.
If a law could really exist on the search for paternity, it would have to establish, in an abstract line, this principle of law: the possessions of each man are shared equally to all the women with whom he had relationship for the maintenance of the offspring. Such a law would mark the end of capitalism. It is absurd for the bourgeoisie to vote for it. But it is possible that a democracy wise to overshadow its programs – along with others that space prohibits us to analyze – to divert the women’s movement by the revolutionary current.
Well, we say to all women who suffer, betrayed and deceived by male bullying, that they must not let themselves be led on the wrong path. As to proletarians who await their redemption from democratic reforms, we say to our companions: Raise your eyes, the light of redemption is there, in the great revolutionary conquest and not elsewhere.
Let us beware of female democracy which will be no less harmful than female clericalism.
Already in this field, freemasonry works, with unsuspected intensity, and has its phonographic records brought in a “soprano” voice: civilization, progress, free thought... It is an alarm that must go through the socialist ranks because the sad maneuver cannot succeed.
And in order for it not to succeed, we must work much more than they do, true, good, holy propaganda among women.
1#. In Italian, uomo can mean man, an individual male, or man, the human species, hence the distinction being made here. In the Manuscripts, Marx uses the word “Weib”, which has no direct English equivalent. While the word was commonly used in Marx’s time to refer to women, it is used almost exclusively in a pejorative sense today.
2#. “Kolkhozised” is a reference to the forced collectivization of Soviet agriculture under Stalin; the kolkhoz (колхо́з) was the collective farm established under this system. INA‑Casa was a public housing program run through the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni between 1949 and 1963, which built a number of apartment buildings in several Italian cities. It was intended to both provide affordable housing and provide jobs for unemployed construction workers. One hectare is 10,000 square meters or approximately 2.5 acres; the building at New Lanark described in this passage was approximately 25 hectares. Thus, the population density of an INA‑Casa project was somewhere between three and five times greater than New Lanark!
3#. N.b. we do not mean classist here in the sense in which it is commonly thrown about by the left, i.e., moral indignation at individual chauvinist attitudes, but rather in the sense of promoting the interests of a class.
4#. Marx comments: "Prostitution is only a specific expression of the general prostitution of the labourer, and since it is a relationship in which falls not the prostitute alone, but also the one who prostitutes – and the latter’s abomination is still greater – the capitalist, etc., also comes under this head" (Ibid., 295n).