Workers Vanguard No. 982
10 June 2011
How I Broke with Feminism and Became a Revolutionary Marxist
For Womens Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
By Simone Hayes
(Young Spartacus pages)
When I first came around the Spartacist League, I was shocked when members declared that they were definitively not feminists. I was a feminist and everyone I knew was a feminist. I subscribed to the pick-your-own version of feminism. Whatever you wanted feminism to mean, that was fine with me.
I recall being asked a very simple question by a Spartacist League member. She asked me where women’s oppression came from and I responded, matter of factly, that “patriarchy” oppressed women. I believed the divisions in society were based on gender, as all feminists do. In other words, women were oppressed because for centuries people believed them to be inferior and society and its laws merely reflected that belief.
When I was a sophomore in college, I became a feminist. A lot of the activities I participated in as a feminist centered on campus agitation. I joined a group in community college called the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, which was basically a campus section of the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF). The FMF was a nonprofit organization that had split with the National Organization for Women in the 1980s. Its main objective was to “raise consciousness” among students about women’s rights, within the framework of capitalism. We had petition drives, panel discussions and demonstrations on issues surrounding reproductive rights and issues affecting women internationally.
When I transferred to UCLA my junior year, antiwar “social justice” organizations, i.e., class-collaborationist coalition groups, abounded and I threw myself into this cozy little “family of the left” with great enthusiasm. It did not bother me that we emphasized (maybe 15 to 20 times a day) during the 2006 midterm elections that women desperately needed Democrats in office to get rid of harmful legislation. Or that I had to write press releases for the FMF calling on the U.S. and UN to intervene in Afghanistan and Iran to “protect” Middle Eastern women.
My basic outlook as a feminist was that most worldly ills could be solved if everyone just realized that women were equal to men. Feminists have a fundamental misunderstanding of the breakdown of society and its antagonisms as they believe the fundamental division in the world is between women and men. Feminist theorists have cooked up all sorts of theories on how to rectify and overcome these divisions. The principle most commonly promulgated by feminists is the need for women’s representation among the bourgeoisie and in bourgeois politics. I myself believed that if women were represented in government and Fortune 500 companies in a more egalitarian manner, this would plant the seed of women’s equality and the world would gradually become a more equal place. These were thoroughly idealist views that were eventually stamped out after I studied a historical analysis of women’s oppression.
“Feminism vs. Marxism: Origins of the Conflict” came with my first subscription to Workers Vanguard and was the first Spartacist article I believe I ever read. This article made clear the origins of feminism from “utopian egalitarianism” in the early 19th century and its eventual degeneration into the liberal individualist milieu.
As I was studying Marxism, I read a lot of articles on the deficiency of feminism, on its very bourgeois roots and its very flawed program for women’s emancipation. But what truly broke me from a feminist, and therefore, idealist viewpoint, was studying historical materialism and looking at the world from a class perspective. With this perspective, the roots of women’s oppression became clear. One particular work that was essential to my understanding of women’s oppression was Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Engels presents and explains the core institution of women’s oppression, the monogamous family unit, and how this institution arose with the inception of private property.
The institution of the family under capitalism is essential to the maintenance of capitalism and it is also the main source of women’s oppression. Women bear the burden of raising the next generation of laborers, instilling bourgeois morality and obedience and caring for the people capitalism will not care for: the young, the sick and the old. Black women workers are triply oppressed, as they are not only wage slaves but are also subject to sexual and racial oppression.
The material conditions necessary to liberate women became clear. It was imperative to overthrow capitalism and therefore private property and establish a socialized planned economy. With a planned economy everything that is materially necessary to truly emancipate women would be provided, such as socialized kitchens, laundries, day care, not to mention free health care and free abortion on demand. Studying the Russian Revolution made this clear to me. The Bolsheviks fought, as soon as the Soviet government was formed, to replace the family with the socialization of household labor. Communal dining halls, laundries and childcare facilities were established and laws giving women the right to vote and to abortions were passed. When I first studied the Russian Revolution, I continually, and perhaps skeptically, questioned why the emancipation of women was an essential task of the Bolsheviks after the revolution. I say skeptically, because as a feminist, I thought that women played more of a background role in the revolution and the question of their liberation was never a crucial one. Reading letters from Lenin and other Bolsheviks at this time (from The Emancipation of Women) quashed my skepticism. Because to the Bolsheviks, women’s emancipation was integral to the emancipation of labor itself, not subordinate to it.
Many feminists who have studied the Russian Revolution claim that the Bolsheviks subordinated the question of women’s emancipation to the question of proletarian liberation and the struggle for power. This shows a clear misunderstanding of what is necessary for women to be liberated. In other situations where the question of women’s emancipation was essential, feminists have been on the wrong side. Example: Afghanistan 1979. When the Soviet Union entered Afghanistan in 1979, most feminists took the side of the woman-hating CIA-backed mujahedin against the Soviet Union, while the mujahedin threw acid in the faces of women who were attempting to educate themselves.
After a lot of reading (and many arguments) I came to the realization that feminism can take you to some pretty nasty places politically. From many feminists’ hysterical call, like Take Back the Night, for more cops on college campuses, thereby targeting minority youth, to feminists cozying up to the religious right in anti-sex witchhunts against pornography. Internationally, feminist ideology hurts women by continuously calling for U.S. imperialism and the UN to “intervene” in places like Afghanistan and Iran. Here in the U.S, it is no secret that feminists make it their duty to get Democrats elected. If you go to the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Feminists for Obama Web site, you will see in big bold letters, “We won! We won!” and below it, a huge picture of Obama with the caption: “This is what a feminist looks like.” This clearly demonstrates the political bankruptcy of feminism. Feminists claim that “we have won.” Who is this “we”? It is certainly not the workers, black people or the oppressed of this country. And it’s not just Obama they champion; feminists ask women workers to solidarize with Hillary Clinton, Deputy Top Cop of U.S. imperialism, rather than the man next to them on the factory line! Feminists do not want to get rid of the capitalist state; in fact, they seek to work inside it. Therefore, they have no genuine perspective toward women’s emancipation.
As a Marxist, I now champion the fight for all the workers and oppressed in the world to throw off the yoke of this racist capitalist system. As a Spartacus Youth Club member, I join the fight to win students over to the understanding that the workers must take power in their own name and dismantle this racist capitalist system. As I studied the SL’s history and the history of working-class struggle, I came to the understanding that one cannot fight just for the liberation of women. One must take up the fight for the liberation of all workers and oppressed. How is this possible? By building a Leninist vanguard party that will lead the working class in the struggle to smash capitalism through world socialist revolution!