Comme mon monde tourne

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The difference between ‘liberation’ and ‘emancipation’: When should we should deal with the Women’s Question?

[Wednesday; April 16, 2008]

Some comrades have unwittingly argued that one cannot speak about the emancipation of women until the concept of private property has been abolished; until classes have been eliminated – that is, [at least] until the writ of a Socialist State has been established in the region currently known as Pakistan. They go on to say that to speak about the emancipation of women at this point (while all of us live in a patriarchal society enslaved by private property and capitalism) is the equivalent of indulging in “anarcho-feminism.” They say it is akin to placing the individual before the collective whole.

While none of us disagree with the view that the complete emancipation of women cannot be brought about without the abolition of the concept of private property, I however, fail to see how speaking about the emancipation of women at this point, in the same breath as calling for the emancipation of the workers and peasants, is tantamount to putting the individual before the collective.

Norah Carlin says [1] that “the view that women are oppressed simply because men (and most women too) have the wrong ideas about women can be too optimistic. Liberating women is seen as just a matter of persuasion and education, of explaining to men that they have got it wrong and that they really should share the housework and the top jobs because it would be ‘more fair.’

“History shows that all ideas can change: none are so deep-rooted in human nature that nothing can be done about them. But they can't be changed by persuasion, by the light of reason alone, because ideas depend on material relations between human beings.

“To get rid of the idea once and for all we have to get rid of the system that produces the idea. This doesn’t mean that we can’t argue or organise against [the idea] here and now, but it does mean that persuading people that they have the wrong ideas is only the first step to getting rid of the society that is responsible for them.

“As Engels argued a hundred years ago, in The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, the oppression of women began when class society began.

“The oppression of women is not universal; women are strong and equal in societies with simple production and no class divisions; all societies must have started out like this.

“No one could really wish for the whole of humanity to return to this primitive state: the vast majority of people alive today would be wiped out by hunger and disease. Equality for women in the future would have to be based on the full capacity of modern science and technology to fulfil human needs--a capacity that today is largely wasted by the capitalist system, with its drive for profits and lunacies such as nuclear weapons. Women could be strong and free in such a future society because of their role as producers and creators of all kinds, and not just because they bear children or grub roots out of the ground--as they did in primitive society. But to achieve this, it is necessary to get rid of class society.”

Now that we have established and agreed on the fact that women, workers and peasants cannot be completely emancipated without eliminating class society, let us examine the view [held by some comrades] about there being no need to call for emancipating women in bourgeoisie society – of such calls being equated with “anarcho-feminism.”

What is the ‘Women’s Question’?

August Bebel defines it [2] as the factor that “deals with the position that 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? To us then, the woman question is only one phase of the general social question that at present occupies all intelligent minds, its final solution can only be attained by removing social extremes and the evils which are a result of such extremes.

The Women’s Question in the context of the Socialist Movement:

Comrade Lenin always called for the equality of men and women, and for the emancipation of workers and peasants, in the same breath.

“In exile,” Comrade Nadezhda K. Krupskaya writes [3], “Lenin devoted much of his time to working out the Party programme. At that time the Party had no programme. There was only a draft programme compiled by the Emancipation of Labour group. Examining this programme in his article ‘A Draft Programme of Our Party’ and commenting on #9 of the practical part of the programme, which demanded ‘the revision of our entire civil and criminal legislation, the abolition of social-estate divisions and of punishments incompatible with the dignity of man,’ Lenin wrote that it would be well to add here: ‘complete equality of rights for men and women’.”

In 1903, when the Party Programme was adopted, this clause was included in it.

Furthermore, Comrade Lenin was opposed to “separating” the two struggles, leaving one for a later time “for the sake of expediency.” An apt example of this is found in his 1907 report on the International Congress in Stuttgart. [4] Comrade Lenin supported comrades Zetkin and Zietz’s opposition to what Comrade Krupskaya referred to as the “opportunist practices of the Austrian Social-Democrats.” The latter, during a campaign for electoral rights, had decided to push forward the demand for male suffrage, and leave the struggle for the electoral rights of women to a “later date,” whenever that may be.

In Comrade Lenin’s own words: “This controversy between the Austrian and German women Social-Democrats will enable the reader to see how severely the best Marxists treat the slightest deviation from the principles of consistent revolutionary tactics.”

“Zetkin declared in the press that they should not under any circumstances have neglected the demand for women’s suffrage, that the Austrians had opportunistically sacrificed principle to expediency, and that they would not have narrowed the scope of their agitation, but would have widened it and increased the force of the popular movement had they fought for women's suffrage with the same energy,” Comrade Lenin notes.

He further goes on to say that the Congress “declared in favour of women workers campaigning for the franchise, not in conjunction with the bourgeois supporters of women’s rights, but in conjunction with the class parties of the proletariat. The Congress recognised that in the campaign for women’s suffrage it was necessary to uphold fully the principles of socialism and equal rights for men and women without distorting those principles for the sake of expediency.

On [perceived] demands for “free love”:

Some comrades have even declared that “anarcho-feminists” within our ranks are calling for “free love” and our worthy comrades reject this demand for a number of reasons given by them. Let us look at what Comrade Lenin has to say on the topic.

In a 1915 letter written to Comrade Inessa Armand, [5] where Comrade Lenin discusses a pamphlet [for working-class women] with her, Lenin asks her to throw out a clause about the “demand [women’s] for free love.” We need to understand however, that Comrade Lenin does not ask her to do this because he thinks it is a frivolous demand, per se. Rather, he wants it to be rephrased [as he explains later in the letter] so as to reflect the Proletarian perspective, rather than the Bourgeois notions that a phrase such as “demand for free love” evokes.

Comrade Lenin goes on to explain his stance. “After all, what do you understand by that phrase? What can be understood by it?” he asks Comrade Armand. “1. Freedom from material (financial) calculations in affairs of love? 2. The same, from material worries? 3. From religious prejudices? 4. From prohibitions by Papa, etc.? 5. From the prejudices of “society”? 6. From the narrow circumstances of one’s environment (peasant or petty-bourgeois or bourgeois intellectual)? 7. From the fetters of the law, the courts and the police? 8. From the serious element in love? 9. From child-birth? 10. Freedom of adultery? Etc.

“I have enumerated many shades (not all, of course). You have in mind, of course, not nos. 8–10, but either nos. 1–7 or something similar to nos. 1–7. But then for nos. 1–7 you must choose a different wording, because freedom of love does not express this idea exactly. And the public, the readers of the pamphlet, will inevitably understand by ‘freedom of love,’ in general, some thing like nos. 8–10, even without your wishing it.

“Just because in modern society the most talkative, noisy and ‘top-prominent’ classes understand by ‘freedom of love’ nos. 8–10, just for that very reason this is not a proletarian but a bourgeois demand. For the proletariat nos. 1–2 are the most important, and then nos. 1–7, and those, in fact, are not ‘freedom of love.’ The thing is not what you subjectively ‘mean’ by this. The thing is the objective logic of class relations in affairs of love.”

In another letter [6] to Comrade Armand on the same subject, Comrade Lenin further clarified his stance. The basics however, are the same as those in the first letter.

What should our stance be?

Women in Pakistan today wage battles, day in and day out, on a number of fronts. From individual households to the streets and roads, all the way to workplaces and beyond, a woman in our society has to fight relentlessly, without stopping for breathe, merely to “get a foot in at the door.” Every day for us is a battle for rights. In such a situation, comrades need to realise that off-the-cuff remarks such as comparing this fight to “anarcho-feminism” is not only extremely discouraging, but indeed, absolutely demeaning to the women of this country – especially those who have pledged to fight for The Cause.

As Comrade Zietz said her speech at the International Socialist Women’s Conference (which took place in Stuttgart at the same time as the Congress that ruled against the Austrian opportunism): “In principle we must demand all that we consider to be correct. Only when our strength is inadequate for more, do we accept what we are able to get. That has always been the tactics of Social-Democracy. The more modest our demands the more modest will the government be in its concessions....”

Our stance as cadres of a vanguard Communist Party should therefore be to ‘liberate’ women as much as possible NOW, without sitting on our hands and waiting for classes to be abolished. What exactly do we mean by ‘liberation’ here, though? Liberating women, in this context, means that we should draw them out, as much as possible “into public activity; into the militia; into political life,” Comrade Lenin says. [7] We need to pull them away from what he aptly refers to as the “deadening atmosphere of the household and the kitchen.”

“We want women workers to achieve equality with men workers not only in law, but in life as well,” Comrade Lenin says. [8] “For this, it is essential that women workers take an ever increasing part in the administration of public enterprises and in the administration of the state. By engaging in the work of administration women will learn quickly and they will catch up with the men. Let there be more women workers in the Moscow Soviet! The proletariat cannot achieve complete freedom, unless it achieves complete freedom for women.”

Of course, we are under no illusions here. We understand that complete emancipation will not occur until the abolition of class society, but we should not let that sidetrack us and make us believe that no liberation at all can occur in the presence of the current class society. We much remember that without this liberation of women [within bourgeois, capitalist society], “it is impossible to secure real freedom, it is impossible even to build democracy, let alone socialism.” [7]

“Where there are landlords, capitalists and merchants, there can be no equality between women and men even in law,” Comrade Lenin explains. [8] “Where there are no landlords, capitalists and merchants, where the government of the toilers is building a new life without these exploiters, there equality between women and men exists in law. But that is not enough. It is a far cry from equality in law to equality in life.”

For “equality in life,” Comrade Lenin says, we need to pull women out to the public and political spheres. To do this we will have to teach them to break the shackles of patriarchy. In that process, we will inevitably have to wage individual battles [along with collective ones], for only by winning these smaller battles can we expect to build the force that will stand by us for the bigger war – that for building Socialism. In order to build this force, it is essential that the male cadres of our Party stand shoulder to shoulder with us; it is essential that they drop all shackles of patriarchy even though they live in a capitalist, bourgeois, and thus by nature, patriarchal, society. That, comrades, is the sacrifice required from the cadre of a vanguard Communist Party.

We shall have to fight and fight!! Shall we succeed in dissuading them? What is your opinion?” ~ V.I. Lenin
~ Urooj Zia
[Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party]


[1] Norah Carlin (Women and the Struggle for Socialism).

[2] August Bebel (Women and Socialism).

[3] Nadezhda K. Krupskaya (Preface; The Emacipation of Women).

[4] V.I. Lenin (The International Socialist Congress in Stuttgart).

[5] Lenin (To Inessa Armand; January 17, 1915).

[6] Lenin (To Inessa Armand; January 24, 1915).

[7] Lenin (Letter from Afar; Zurich; March 11, 1917).

[8] Lenin (To the Working Women; February 21, 1920).
posted by Bolshevik at 4/16/2008 08:38:00 pm


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