15 January 2011

No Woman Question?

No Woman, No Revolution, Part 1

No Woman Question?

Feminism, particularly in the field of politics, has often worked to the advantage of the bourgeoisie. Examples would be the elevation to leadership of Helen Zille, Margaret Thatcher, Condoleezza Rice, Madeleine Albright and Hilary Clinton.

Agitation identifies a correct requirement that more women be promoted to leadership. But then, at the crucial moment, no female candidate appears, other than the well-prepared female candidate of the reactionaries. A result of that kind is a catastrophe for all, and especially for the women. Part of the remedy is to prepare more young working-class women for leadership, and we are doing so.

In the Umsebenzi Online of 6 August 2009 the SACP General Secretary, Dr Blade Nzimande, also the Minister of Higher Education and Training, wrote that the majority of the membership of the Young Communist League by then was young black women.

This remarkable achievement ranks alongside of the achievement of the 2007 52nd National Conference of the African National Congress (Polokwane), which elected a National Executive Committee that consists of 50% women and 50% men.

There is now a stream of South African women cadres moving forward at an equivalent scale to the men, and their placement in leadership is happening. These achievements are the result of consistent work and determination over many years. They are not regarded as extra, or simply “nice-to-have”. They are necessary building blocks of Socialism.

The proletarian revolution is inconceivable without the involvement of the more than 50% of the population which is female. That is the general circumstance.

The particular situation is that the working-class movement and its allies must continue to be able to find winning female candidates at all levels and must never again be put in the position of seeing a reactionary being elected because she is a woman, only because there is no working-class woman candidate. Feminism alone is not enough.

Alexandra Kollontai understood the limits of feminism very well. In 1908 she wrote: The [bourgeois] feminists seek equality in the framework of the existing class society, in no way do they attack the basis of this society.” (The full document download is linked below). 

“Where, then, is that general ‘woman question’? Where is that unity of tasks and aspirations about which the feminists have so much to say? A sober glance at reality shows that such unity does not and cannot exist,” wrote Kollontai.

“The feminists declare themselves to be on the side of social reform, and some of them even say they are in favour of socialism — in the far distant future, of course — but they are not intending to struggle in the ranks of the working class for the realisation of these aims. The best of them believe, with a naive sincerity, that once the deputies’ seats are within their reach they will be able to cure the social sores which have in their view developed because men, with their inherent egoism, have been masters of the situation. However good the intentions of individual groups of feminists towards the proletariat, whenever the question of class struggle has been posed they have left the battlefield in a fright. They find that they do not wish to interfere in alien causes, and prefer to retire to their bourgeois liberalism which is so comfortably familiar,” says Kollontai.

Kollontai was writing at the dawn of modern feminism, at the time of the “Suffragette” campaigns for votes for women in capitalist countries, which hardly existed at the time. Kollontai published her pamphlet “The Social Basis of the Woman Question” (download linked below) in 1909.

Kollontai saw two camps. In one camp were the feminists, who to Kollontai were bourgeois feminists by definition. In the other camp were women who were proletarian, or partisans of the proletariat. She distinguished between these two camps as follows:

“However apparently radical the demands of the feminists, one must not lose sight of the fact that the feminists cannot, on account of their class position, fight for that fundamental transformation of the contemporary economic and social structure of society without which the liberation of women cannot be complete.

“If in certain circumstances the short-term tasks of women of all classes coincide, the final aims of the two camps, which in the long term determine the direction of the movement and the tactics to be used, differ sharply. While for the feminists the achievement of equal rights with men in the framework of the contemporary capitalist world represents a sufficiently concrete end in itself, equal rights at the present time are, for the proletarian women, only a means of advancing the struggle against the economic slavery of the working class. The feminists see men as the main enemy, for men have unjustly seized all rights and privileges for themselves, leaving women only chains and duties. For them a victory is won when a prerogative previously enjoyed exclusively by the male sex is conceded to the ‘fair sex’.

“Proletarian women have a different attitude. They do not see men as the enemy and the oppressor; on the contrary, they think of men as their comrades, who share with them the drudgery of the daily round and fight with them for a better future. The woman and her male comrade are enslaved by the same social conditions; the same hated chains of capitalism oppress their will and deprive them of the joys and charms of life. It is true that several specific aspects of the contemporary system lie with double weight upon women, as it is also true that the conditions of hired labour sometimes turn working women into competitors and rivals to men. But in these unfavourable situations, the working class knows who is guilty.”

“The working woman is first and foremost a member of the working class.”

Please download and read this text via the following link: