Spartacist South Africa No. 10
From the Archives of Women and Revolution
The Class Struggle Road to Women's Liberation
The leaflet reprinted below was originally produced and circulated by the Revolutionary Marxist Caucus in the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1969-70. It was previously reprinted in the first bound volume of Women and Revolution. SDS was a student organisation that became radicalised under the impact of the social struggles—particularly the struggles for black rights and in opposition to the US imperialists’ losing counterrevolutionary war in Vietnam—of the 1950s and 1960s in the US. The Revolutionary Marxist Caucus in SDS was formed by members of the Spartacist League/U.S. and others as a way to regroup the most advanced among the radicalised students around a revolutionary working class programme. As the leaflet below underlines, the fight for women’s liberation is a central element of this programme.
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SDS needs a clear and accurate class analysis of the special oppression of women, and a Marxist program for women’s liberation. The class question is the decisive issue in a class society; however other types of oppression exist as well, i.e., racial oppression, colonial oppression, and the special oppression of women.
Economic Aspects of Women’s Oppression
Women make up one third of the American labor force, but the wages of the full-time working woman average only 60% of those of the average male working full time. The non-white working woman, suffering under a double load of exploitation and oppression, must indeed be the most victimized category in American capitalist society. In itself, the lower average income of women workers roughly indicates the degree of their oppression, not their superexploitation relative to working men. (They might—and do—take home less money because they are concentrated in less productive jobs.) But women, even more than other oppressed groups such as Black male workers, frequently receive less for work identical to that performed by more highly paid men: this constitutes their super-exploitation. In addition to suffering oppression and discrimination, women are thus super-exploited in the literal and technical sense of the term.
The Reactionary Nature of the Family
It is not only as workers that women are oppressed: they suffer from numerous other forms of oppression as well, most of which arise out of that oppressive institution known as the family.
Marxists have long viewed the family as a basically reactionary economic unit which arose with the development of private property (See Engels, The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State). With the creation of private property in the hands of one man comes the need to insure that the children of that man and no other would inherit the wealth; thus, the need to restrict sexual access to women created the institution of marriage, for which the monogamy of the woman (but not that of the man) is required.
The social revolution will, by transferring all productive property to public ownership, undermine the economic basis of the family unit: when the means of production are transferred to common ownership the single family household ceases to be the main economic unity of society, and housekeeping becomes a social, rather than private, process. The care and education of children then becomes a social responsibility and a public affair. Society will look after all children alike whether or not they are, in bourgeois jargon, legitimate.
This is far from advocating the idiocy of the capitalist press that under communism men and women will live in separate barracks and children will be brought up in a state orphanage. We are advocating the replacement of marriage as a compulsory economic unit with voluntary forms better suited to people’s physical and emotional needs. We foresee a more humane system of human relationships based on free choice rather than economic necessity. We do not expect human love to vanish ... on the contrary, freed of economic and political coercion, these relationships will be free to flourish and develop their full potential.
Since the institution of the family is an integral part of the capitalist system, the struggle for women’s liberation cannot be successfully culminated under capitalism. Only in a socialist society will the free forms necessary to true female liberation be possible. This does not mean that the economic and social oppression of women will automatically end following the socialist workers’ revolution. It only means that this battle can be won fully and completely in a socialist society.
The Family in Non-Capitalist States
In those societies which have abolished capitalist property relations but in which workers’ control has been usurped by a bureaucracy substituting itself politically for the working class, the woman’s situation vis-a-vis the family and the rest of society bears an important resemblance to that of capitalist countries. This is due not to the semi-socialist aspect of these societies (public ownership of the means of production), but rather to the political and cultural holdovers from bourgeois society, which are revived by the nationalistic bureaucratic elites to stifle further development toward the full workers’ control which threatens their privileged caste position. What is most repugnant to a revolutionist is that the Stalinist elites ruling over the working class in these societies present the survival of a reactionary institution as a great achievement in building socialism. Lenin and Trotsky recognized that the dark, stultifying heritage of the family and its attendant oppression of women could not be eliminated overnight under primitive conditions, but they never glorified these backward survivals. The official glorification of family life and the retreat from Bolshevik policies on divorce and abortion were an integral part of Stalin’s counterrevolution which established a political dictatorship over the working class. Even where private property no longer exists—an advance beyond capitalism which revolutionaries must defend at all costs—the institution of the family serves, at best, to hinder the development of a socialist society. At worst—when officially endorsed—it provides a backward base of support culturally for the parasitic bureaucrats who barter away the world revolution. SDS cannot wish away the traditionalist, authoritarian significance of the family institution by anti-Marxist words about making it a “unit for fighting the ruling class”. Reactionary institutions serve reactionary ends; they prevent revolution or help to turn it back.
SDS and Special Groups
Within SDS we must oppose sexual discrimination and male chauvinism as divisive forces, dividing and weakening SDS just as they divide and weaken the labor movement and the working class in general.
But it is not enough to fight individual aspects of women’s oppression within the labor movement and in SDS. Separate women’s liberation groups offer an opportunity to tie together all aspects of women’s oppression in the minds of their members, and hence to suggest a single solution—which is socialism. As Marxists, we recognize that special oppression calls for special defensive and combative organizations of the oppressed. For this reason, SDS should give critical support (determined by program) to Black groups which fight the special oppression of Black people; similarly SDS should support women’s groups which fight on the basis of a Marxist program for the special needs of women.
Armed with a more developed political and economic analysis of society, SDS members should be able to win the more serious groups away from petty-bourgeois amateur therapy sessions, liberalism, female separatism and vicarious anti-male terrorism, to a working-class perspective. Women’s liberation groups are a good arena for winning militant women over to SDS and to socialism.
Programme for Women’s Liberation
When SDS members make a political entry into a special group such as a women’s liberation group, they should be armed with a program which raises consciousness by relating specific felt needs to the broader struggle for socialism. We carry through this program by raising a series of transitional demands—that is, demands which flow from the specific struggle but which lead the struggle to a higher level of militancy and political sophistication.
We move that SDS accept the following program for struggle and agitate around the following demands:
For the abolition of family restrictions:
1. Abolition of abortion laws; each woman must be free to make her own decisions.
2. Free abortions, as part of demand for free quality medical care for everybody, so poor women will have the same freedom of choice as middle-class women.
3. Freely available birth control devices and information.
4. Free full-time child-care facilities for all children, the expenses to be borne by the employer or the state. Free prenatal, maternity and postnatal care with no loss in pay for time off.
5. Establishment of free voluntary cafeterias in the factories and other places of work.
6. Divorce at the request of either partner. Abolition of alimony. Equal right to and responsibility for children. Expenses for children to be paid by the state.
7. Lower the legal age of adulthood to 16. State stipend for schooling or training for any child who wishes to leave home. Free education for all children, with housing, food and stipend. No loco parentis. Student-teacher-worker control of all schools and colleges.
To fight the super-exploitation of women workers:
8. Full and equal pay for equal work.
9. Equal work: equal access to all job categories. Shorter work week with no loss in pay (“30 for 40”) to eliminate unemployment at the capitalists’ expense.
To fight male chauvinism:
10. An end to all forms of discrimination—legal, political, social and cultural.
SDS should seek the creation of a non-exclusionist class-conscious women’s liberation organization in which SDS members can participate and struggle on the basis of the above program. Toward this end, we should direct interested SDS members to seek to initiate, along with other radical women, a nationally-oriented women’s liberation publication.