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Archive - Clara Zetkin

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Zur Geschichte der proletarischen Frauenbewegung Deutschlands

English translation

Kamgar Prakashan
Delhi

 

 

 

The Bourgeois Women’s Movement

 

The bourgeois women’s movement is - as is the modern women’s movement as a whole - an offshoot of the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism created the economic basis of, and was the main driving force behind, the endeavour towards complete social equality of men and women. The capitalist mode of production, which was the foundation of bourgeois society, destroyed the social conditions of domestic productive activity by women and children. The social conditions characteristic of earlier social formations had determined the conditions of women’s lives and had subjugated them to domination by men. Earlier women had engaged in many-sided domestic productive activities. However, the development of modern cities deprived them of their working place in the family as well as of their source of agricultural raw materials. Improved means of production, engines, machine tools, as also some advances made in developing economic skills and techniques based on the application of scientific knowledge were instrumental in bringing about this far-reaching upheaval. Such transformations in bourgeois society were a pre-condition of the modern women’s movement. Step by step with these social changes there developed a growing mass of women who, in a planned and organised way, strove for the emancipation of their sex from the legal and social domination of men and for social and human equality between the two sexes.

The bourgeois women’s movement raised the basic demand that women must be granted a completely equal position and status to men, both legally and socially. Its leaders maintained that the realisation of this demand would mean emancipation for all women without exception. This was not true. The suffragettes failed to see, or did not want to see, that either for complete social and human freedom or for slavery, the decisive factor was that bourgeois society, based on the capitalist mode of production and built on the unbridgeable class contradiction of the bourgeoisie and proletariat, was divided into the exploiter and ruler on the one hand, and the exploited and ruled on the other. After all what determined the situation and the life-patterns of women was their membership of either of the two classes, and not their community as a sex, which had remained more or less without rights and had been oppressed to the advantage of the dominating and privileged position of men. Thus, the formal equality of status between the two sexes in the statute-books secured for the women of the exploited and oppressed class as little of complete social and human freedom and equality as it did for the men of their class, in spite of their being of the same sex as the men of the bourgeoisie.

Responsible for this situation of women was the basic class contradiction, peculiar to bourgeois society, that is, the private ownership of the means of production of goods necessary for the sustenance of life and cultural advancement. This basic cause of class slavery had to be eliminated if women of the exploited class and such oppressed strata as were closely linked with it - and they constituted the overwhelming majority of the female population - in reality and in fact were to attain total emancipation and equality. This could happen only when, corresponding to the social character of the modern means of production, private property of individuals or small groups became social property, and when society regulated the conditions for the production of goods and the distribution of its material and cultural fruit. Only on the basis of such a revolutionised economy could newer and higher social form develop which should guarantee to the whole of womankind real freedom of development and activity towards complete humanity. Only the organised revolutionary class struggle of all exploited people without distinction of sex could lead us to this goal and not the struggle of women against male supremacy which did not take class distinction into account.

In contrast to these scientific perceptions, which were borne out by facts and experience, the bourgeois women’s movement limited its advocacy of the emancipation of women to the struggle against the privileges and power of the man in the family, state and society. This limitation was a universal feature of the bourgeois women’s movement. It showed that the suffragettes did not comprehend the vast and complex question of the emancipation of women in its ramified social context, but rather had a worm’s eye-view of the interests of bourgeois society. Their concepts and actions stood out all the more because history teaches us that the sex-slavery of women had developed on the basis of private property and in connection with it.

The main demands of the bourgeois women’s movement which were aimed at smashing the domination and power of the male sex over the female were: equal rights to contract, form, and break up a marriage; equal rights over children for men and women; a common sexual moral code; the women’s right to dispose of her property, income and earnings; assured freedom of professional training and activity; equal right to freedom of movement and activity for both the sexes in all spheres of social life; full political equality in the state and its organs, and so on. It could not be disputed that the suffragettes’ demands were of value to the proletarian and working women. Of particular significance was the fundamental recognition that the female sex had equal worth and equal rights as men. However, the value and significance of the reforms for the mitigation and abolition of the sex-slavery of women was limited and, in fact, reduced to nothing in the case of the majority of women in bourgeois society because of the continued existence of class slavery which had chained the body and spirit of the exploited. The success of the bourgeois women’s movement was, in fact, predominantly to the advantage of the economically free women of the propertied, ruling and exploiting class.

The suffragettes did not engage in the fight against the class slavery of the vast majority of women, although this class slavery propped up and aggravated sex-slavery. Furthermore, they fundamentally rejected the class struggle which had to be fought by the downtrodden against their masters and torturers. The bourgeois women’s movement had both its feet planted firmly on the ground of bourgeois society and defended it against the advancing proletariat. It strove only to reform bourgeois society by loosening the legal and social fetters which kept the female sex in bondage to the advantage of men. The revolution, which aimed at liberating women through the capture of power by the proletariat, was at a later stage opposed by the overwhelming majority of suffragettes with undisguised and bitter enmity and without even a pretence at neutrality, as had been partially the case at the beginning of their movement. Thus, the bourgeois women’s movement was not a pioneer of women’s emancipation and did not represent the interests of all those women who yearned for freedom. It was and would remain a bourgeois class movement, it was the last offshoot of the bourgeois freedom struggle in which the bourgeoisie overthrew the dominant and ruling sections of feudal society and rose to become the dominant political power. Its goal was the legal realisation of principles in the name of which the bourgeoisie had led into the struggle all those who had been trampled upon and plundered by the feudal sovereign power. These were the principles of a formal bourgeois democracy, the statutory recognition of equality and equal rights of all members of bourgeois society as an expression of universal human rights.

In the thoroughly religiously imbued ideology of the pioneers of bourgeois power in seventeenth century England, these universal human rights were a God-given gift. According to the materialist world-view of the philosophes, whose teachings enthused the leaders of the bourgeois struggle for power against feudal might in France a century later, universal human rights were natural rights that fell to the share of each member of society without distinction of birth. On the basis of both of these views the international bourgeois women’s movement demanded and continues to demand the equality of women as an “universal human right”, as a gift of God, and a natural right which had been usurped by the stronger men from the weaker women. It is only under the influence of socialist teachings and socialist criticism that it started, gradually and incompletely, to justify its demands on the basis of the changed living and working conditions of women. It ignored the fact that in bourgeois society the proclaimed “principles of democracy” in actuality function as the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie and “universal human rights” are in fact only a privilege of the propertied.

The bourgeois women’s movement traced its origins back to the French Revolution of the late eighteenth century. In the storm and fire of these powerful events, organised and fighting women raised the demand for the complete equality of the female sex in the family, society and state. Olympe de Gouges1 explained it as a consequence of universal human rights proclaimed in the famous sentence: “when a woman has the right to mount the guillotine, she must equally have the right to mount the speaker’s platform”. In spite of the sacrifice and achievements of women, indeed of large numbers of women, for the defence and triumph of the revolution, human rights did not become women’s rights. Capitalism in its infancy had not yet revolutionised bourgeois society deeply enough for this step. Also it had not yet developed the class contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat to any degree of acuteness and maturity which would have unequivocally revealed the inadequacy of the formal character of women’s rights as universal human rights. Similarly, they could not pretend to imply what they did not, namely: the total emancipation of all womankind.

The revolutions of the first half of the nineteenth century in France and Germany, the political and social struggles in England and, especially, the great and ultimately armed conflict of the industrial forth with the feudal South of the United States for the abolition of slavery were accompanied by the emergence of principled spokespersons for women’s equality; loosely connected women’s groups came into being to voice this demand. In France and Germany some of the pioneers demanded not only the emancipation of women, but also an improvement in the living conditions of women workers. However, this did not happen as a result of the proletarian class-view, but rather in the name of a sentimental humanity which wanted to help the “poor sisters” from above, and did not want to call them to a struggle for themselves from below. The appearance of the workers as an united militant class in the revolutions in France and Germany - the battle in Paris in June, 1848 -had alarmed the “respectable bourgeoisie”. In all the countries where capitalism was advancing triumphantly, the class contradiction between the exploiting and the exploited intensified and the proletariat began marshalling itself as a vigorous, unionised and politically organised revolutionary force. The bourgeoisie attempted at first to entice this force, then to break it. From a revolutionary it became a reactionary and eventually a decidedly counter-revolutionary class.

The bourgeois women’s movement took an active part in this development. Its class character which was no longer disguised in the old phraseology became increasingly clear. This became especially apparent in its attitude to the legal protection of female labour and to female franchise which was contracted into a “franchise for upper-class women.... To be sure, the “radical” suffragettes pressed on, supported by the requirements and demands of a broad section of women of the middle class and the intelligentsia who bitterly felt the domination of big capital. However, in spite of this the bourgeois women’s movement became “more moderate” and “more rational”. It came to terms with old prejudices, it put bourgeois class interest above the equality of the female sex. In the struggle for female franchise the terrorist tactics of the self-sacrificing anarchist suffragettes in the U.S. and England did underline the class character of the suffrage movement, but they failed to change it. Notwithstanding their festive songs of international sisterhood and burning love for freedom, most bourgeois women’s organisations in all countries acted in the name of “patriotic defence”, as fanatic nationalists and murderously patriotic supporters of the imperialist genocide which lasted for over four years.

Under the influence of the October Revolution of 1917, when the Russian proletariat rang the victory bells of the world proletarian revolution, the oppressed and the exploited of the capitalist, the colonial and semi-colonial countries rose up to fight and shake off their chains. After 1917, the most important aim of the bourgeois women’s movement became the preservation and protection of the bourgeois social system within the bounds of which women could rid themselves neither of their class slavery nor of their sex-slavery. All this was done despite the fact that the Constitution and the socialist mode of development in the USSR confirmed that the proletarian revolution was creating higher economic and social forms which did not leave the concept of complete social and human equality of women merely on paper, indeed it was being transformed into reality. The only exception to the counter-revolutionary activities of the bourgeois women’s movement was the International Women’s League for Freedom and Peace. Its top leadership did not shudder upon hearing of the impending overthrow of the bourgeois social order by the revolutionary and struggling proletariat and its dictatorship. Their reaction had its roots in an honest pacifism, an ardent love of peace and an unprejudiced acknowledgement of the achievements of women’s emancipation in the Russian Revolution. However, the League was only a small fraction of the bourgeois women’s movement.

The counter-revolutionary force of organised feminism did not depend on a gathering of bourgeois ladies, but rather on its deceptive and paralysing influence on a great number of working women. The aspirations and actions of these women were focussed on the struggle between the sexes for reforming bourgeois society, instead of being concentrated on class conflict with the purpose of revolution. The bourgeois women’s movement degraded these masses into forces of counter-revolution. In its actions it took the strongly reformist social democratic women’s movement in tow. The significance of this occurrence should not be underestimated. With the expansion of capitalism the bourgeois women’s emancipation movement spread all over the world. It also embraced a growing number of women in the Orient. Wherever the oppressed and plundered classes and peoples rose against imperialist capitalism, it came to its rescue by holding back the working women from the revolutionary struggle of their brothers by offering mystifying illusions. It dragged behind it a following of several millions. It included educational organisations which preached submissiveness and a pious belief in Capital, Associations, trade unions and professional unions provided petty advantages; while welfare associations acted as fetters and gags for anti-bourgeois ideas and activities. It had an ingeniously contrived propaganda, agitation apparatus, and an active force of several thousands at its disposal. It was provided with rich material facilities from public and private funds. The classic expressions of the counter-revolutionary character of the bourgeois women’s movement were the fascist women’s organisations in Italy, Poland, Germany, the U.S. and other countries. In short, the bourgeois women’s movement is a serious and dangerous force of counter-revolution. There cannot and ought not to be any compromise, nor any association with it, it must be defeated, so that the world proletarian revolution may win. The objective and subjective forces of history guarantee its triumph.

 

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Note:

 

1. Olympe de Gouges (1748-1793): French suffragette; stood for the complete political, economic and legal equality of women; authoress of the “Declaration of the Rights of Woman and the Citizeness”

 

 

The Social Democratic Women’s Movement

In the finest period of its history, the social democratic women’s movement pitted itself as a proletarian struggle against the bourgeois women’s movement. During this period it was in theory and practice what the latter pretended to be: a pioneer of total social and human liberation and equality for all womankind. In the light of historical materialism it perceived the women’s question as an essential component of the general social question. It realised that class antagonism and class struggle of the exploited and the exploiters in bourgeois society was decisive for the complete emancipation of women. Its activity was guided by the understanding that only the revolutionary overthrow of bourgeois society and the realisation of socialism by the proletariat - in struggle for emancipation could bring the whole of womankind to a fully blooming and self-asserting humanity transcending formal statutory equality of both the sexes.

In contrast to bourgeois feminism, the proletarian women’s movement could not and did not call upon women of all classes and strata of society to collectively fight against the male sex for a reform of society that would then go on to abolish the privileges of men. Rather, it was first and foremost the proletarian women who were brought together, organised and taught to fight arm in arm with their class brothers. It also called upon the exploited and oppressed women of all strata of society to wage the class struggle together with the proletariat in order to overthrow the bourgeois order by abolishing the private ownership of the means of production.

The social democratic women’s movement in word and deed forfeited the honour of being a proletarian women’s movement. Judging by its aim and content, it was merely a reform movement, a specific variety of bourgeois suffrage or bourgeois democracy. It received its impetus from the Second International and it degenerated together with it step by step when social democracy betrayed the interests of the proletariat at the outbreak of the imperialist war in 1914.

The proletarian and bourgeois women’s emancipation movements had a common origin in the destruction of the old domestic productive activity of the woman in the family by the capitalist mode of production. But, after that the class antagonism between women came to the fore in bourgeois society. The fact that working class women did not own property meant that proletarian women needed productive and wage earning work for their own survival and that of their family. Thanks to the modern means and conditions of production, the economic revolution along with industrialisation created new and large avenues of such work in society. The desire for surplus value, for profit, which is the soul of capitalism, pushed the masses of proletarian women into the factories by the compelling pressure of destitution. Thoroughgoing utilisation of cheap, willing female labour, further cheapened as a result of wage pressure, was not only a manifestation and result of the expansion of capitalism; it was at the same time a precondition for its blossoming.

Paid work in society freed the proletarian woman from economic dependence on man and made her, as an earning member, equal to him. However, because of her sex-slavery as a woman, she was still legally and statutorily chained to him. Apart from this, she also had to pay a heavy price for her economic independence in the form of the most merciless consequences of proletarian class slavery. This fate did not await her alone. The male proletarian had to reckon with decreasing wages and retrenchment from the factory; the proletarian child, lacking care, faced doom and death; the whole of the working class-increasing pauperisation. Workers who were still not enlightened by the teachings of scientific socialism confused cause and effect. Instead of pointing at the social regime of capitalist exploitation, they held the work of the most thoroughly exploited and oppressed to be responsible for their acute misery. They fought employed female labour in industry and demanded its legal prohibition. The war of the sexes broke out even in the proletarian world over a demand which, if conceded, would have thrown the woman back into her age-old dependence on the male. Sex-bondage and class slavery intertwined closely and shaped the miserable existence of proletarian women.

The ideas of utopian socialists such as Owen, Saint-Simon, Fourier and their followers kindled a flame of hope in this darkness. Proletarian women who were awakened to an understanding of their humanity and developed a yearning for freedom looked forward to their emancipation from all evils in a new and ideal social structure based on equality, freedom and fraternity. They gradually united - even with bourgeois women and defended themselves against the ban on female labour and demanded an improvement in the working and living conditions of women workers. They united with like-minded people - men and women - to collectively propagate and work for building an utopian society based on vision. However, they were still very far from the understanding that capitalism produced the objective pre-conditions for a new order which would free woman and mankind. Such an order would only be realised through the collective revolutionary class struggle of men and women of the proletariat.

Thus, the first beginnings of the efforts for the emancipation of proletarian women were nothing less than what may basically and clearly be termed as socialist, or social democratic. They represented an association and a mixture of feminist, utopian, social revolutionary and social reformist trends and demands. On the national, and even more on the international plane, they lacked a firm organisational structure. In England, France, Germany, the U.S. and elsewhere at times the economic and at other times more political slogans prevailed. What was decisive in general in determining the nature of the slogans was the progressive development of capitalist production and the effect it had in particular historical conditions in various countries on the class contradiction between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; on the decline of bourgeois democracy; and on the advance of the proletariat as a revolutionary class progressing towards knowledge, organisation, and fighting strength. In the course of this process of historical development the voice and the demands of the suffragettes fell behind the exigencies of the class struggle of the proletarian women who were at that time calling for freedom and• equality. Proletarian women struggled on to the understanding that, as women had equal rights and equal worth with men, the fight for emancipation of their class could not triumph without their conscious and devoted ‘participation.

The First International guided and served as a model for the proletariat in the struggle for the total emancipation of the whole of womankind. The Geneva Congress in 1866 repelled the attempts to legally prohibit female labour in industry. This demand had been put forward by the English guild unionists from the right, and Anarchists, Proudhonists and similar forces on the left. Decisive for rejecting this demand was Marx’s own analysis of the problem, based on dialectical materialism, which elucidated the far-reaching revolutionary significance of female labour in industry. The First International demanded complete legal movements for the protection against the reactionary effects, exploitation, and oppression of the social order of capitalism which worsened the class situation of the proletariat. Like the resolution on unions, this showed the necessity of collective class struggle of women and men of the proletariat in order to overthrow capitalism. A woman sat on the General Council of the First International. Trade unions of women workers were affiliated to it, for example, the Union of Shoe Workers in England and the Union of Silk Weavers of Lyons. The International Working Men’s Association supported a strike of the latter with great energy and considerable success. The ideas of this world organisation of the working class in struggle spurred on and guided many women of the proletariat and petty-bourgeoisie. The heroines and martyrs who defended the Paris Commune established their right to equality and their claim to equal status. Prior to this great and internationally inspiring event of proletarian seizure of power, in Germany the first collective and organised march of men and women of the proletariat had already taken place under the banner of socialism. The trade cooperatives of manufactory, textile and manual workers in Crimmitschau (Saxony) established the forerunners of the textile workers’ union which was later to accept the principles of the International Working Men’s Association.

The First International disintegrated as an organisation, but its rich historical content and its revolutionary approach to the women’s question lived on amongst the proletariat and won more and more men and women as followers. The founding congress of the Second International at Paris in 1889 proved this. On behalf of the German delegation one of the two female representatives of the German women worker’s unions1 criticised the ban on the employment of female labour; rejected the suffrage movement and demanded the integration of proletarian women in the ranks of the struggling working class. The Congress expressed its solidarity with these views by applauding enthusiastically, but it did not come to any decision on these issues that would have been binding on its parties and unions. This was characteristic of the attitude of the Second International which refrained from taking initiative and providing leadership; it avoided - ideologically and organisationally connecting the struggle of the proletarian and working women for their emancipation and equality with the class struggle of the proletariat, which would have made it a clear-cut supportive and driving force of social revolution. It was left to the women who believe in socialism to fulfil this important task.

In all capitalist countries these women with mature theoretical knowledge, accompanied by strong fervour and complete dedication, began to clear up the chaos of feminist social reformist and socialist ideas; to overcome the fragmentation of the manifold organisational forms; and to transform the proletarian women’s movement, which was in a state of flux, into a practically effective, and distinctly socialist women’s movement. The social democratic women’s movement proved its worth as part of the revolutionary proletarian struggle for emancipation by making a clear theoretical and practical demarcation from feminism and bourgeois reformism. There ensued the necessary debate on the entire gamut of the women’s question. This was now understood to be a social question that could only be resolved by means of proletarian revolution and dictatorship which would pave the way for socialism. The social democratic women of Germany thus led the way in an exemplary and trailblazing manner.

To begin with they concentrated on the fundamental and practical attitude to be adopted on the legal protection of female workers. In accordance with Marxist views the Congress of the Second International at Zurich in 1893 took a stand against the pronounced feminist trends which existed at that time. The struggle for the basic and tactical position on female franchise was even more fundamental and far-reaching. Should the advocacy of a –“franchise for upper class women” be permitted? Should the demand for the universal women’s franchise in the proletarian struggles be abandoned? Was the suffragettes’ view which equated women’s political franchise with the total social liberation of the female sex, acceptable? The clarification of these issues turned into a passionate and all-out struggle against reformism against opportunism. The initiative and tenacity of the most progressive representatives of the social democratic women’s movement saw to it that the Congress of the Second International held at Stuttgart in 1907 ended with the triumph of revolutionary Marxism. At its best, the social democratic women’s movement was a valuable force of the “left-wing” of the socialist parties of the Second International in the struggle against opportunism and revisionism.

True to its belief in the united organisation of the exploited without distinction of sex, it led women workers to the unions of their trade comrades and the proletarian women of all strata to the socialist parties in their countries. In this manner the social democratic women’s movement tackled the problem of its international integration within the framework of, and in close connection with, the Second International. The First International Conference of Socialist Women in 1907 decided that Die Gleichheit, the women’s paper of German social democracy, was to be an international organ and chose an international secretary2. The Second International Conference of Socialist Women held at Copenhagen in 1910 decided upon March 8 as the International Women’s Day which would be a day of united international action. With regard to the immediate demands of proletarian women, such as the female franchise, it was understood that this too should form a component part of the revolutionary advance of proletarian men and women against bourgeois society.

The imperialist genocide clearly showed that the corrosive force of reformism had also eaten into the apparently promising social democratic women’s movement. It produced nevertheless one more vigorous revolutionary manifestation of life: the International Socialist Women’s Conference held at Berne in 1915. This conference called upon women from the proletarian class standpoint to fight against the betrayal of the bonds of international solidarity of the working class by the majority of the social democratic parties and unions. It asked them to fight for peace between peoples as a necessary condition for unleashing intensive revolutionary assaults of the proletarian masses to bring about an upheaval of bourgeois society. The conference was organised by a minority of the movement: it was the harbinger of its imperative split under the leadership of the Second International the majority of the organised social democratic women were reduced to the position of defenders of the national “fatherlands” of the imperialist bourgeoisie. They competed with the bourgeois women in chauvinist sentiments and activities. They deceived and cheated the proletarian women about the aim and character of the imperialist struggle for power and thus drove them into industry and all other areas of social life. They did not learn anything even in the face of the violent and stormy events of the proletarian revolution in Tsarist Russia; the social democratic women continued to stand by the bourgeoisie in order to protect their class domination against the assault of the revolutionary masses.

The best of their history revealed clearly the depths to which the social democratic women’s movement had sunk. It had degenerated into merely-a-reform-movement which did not mean to overthrow the bourgeois order; on the contrary, it meant to support it. It played a role in strengthening and preserving the class slavery of proletarian women. True, one still spoke of socialism within the social democratic women’s movement, but this movement only had the purpose of discouraging the working women from joining the revolutionary struggle of their class. It did not lead the proletarian women to the only path to socialism and the communist world order: revolution and the capture of state power. It lulled these double victims of capitalism with the dream of a “peaceful growing into socialism” by means of social reforms and bourgeois democracy. Even in the realm of reforms and democracy it deceived the working women with the illusion that these “achievements” were the fruit of class collaboration and class conciliation and not the result of a fierce and persistent proletarian class struggle. By abandoning the basic goal - proletarian revolution - it rendered itself unfit to represent even the current demands of proletarian women.

All these social-reformist trends were visible in the international social democratic women’s conferences that took place at Marseilles in 1925, and at Brussels in 1926 and 1928, under the benevolent sun of the patchwork Second International. These conferences confined themselves to the infinitesimal demands of the Washington Conference of 1919 on the question of the legal protection of female workers, of protection and social care for mother and child and for the needy in general. To this day, they have not been ratified by the glorified coalition governments of the big capitalist countries and the Labour government in England. The social democratic women asked only in a mild fashion for the realisation of these demands as a basic “human right”. The worth of such a position was shown by Mrs. Bondfield, the Works Minister of the English Labour Government. The limitations of this government became manifest through its bills and suggestions for the regulation of unemployment relief; through the working conditions in the mines; through its stand on the great struggle in the wool industry, in which many thousands of women workers were being exploited and enslaved.

The international conferences of social democratic women evaluated female franchise in a completely feminist way by regarding it as the complete achievement of human rights by women. In spite of this the participants were prepared to rest content only with a “franchise for upper class women” and in a cowardly fashion avoided even calling the reformist workers’ party of Belgium to order, when, as a result of its coalition with the liberals, its representatives in the cabinet voted against female franchise which had been proposed by the clericals. The attitude of social democratic women towards the impending danger of imperialist war was extremely shameless. In Marseilles they avoided the expected denouncement of the cruel Moroccan War of the French imperialists, because the reformist socialists of France were not opposed to it, Instead they agitated against the supposed “red imperialism’ of the Soviet Union and fed the peace-seeking proletarian women with the hope of a “ballot paper for mothers”. The social democratic women’s movement was an asylum of illusions regarding the efficacy of the League of Nations to bring about peace, of international disarmament conferences of capitalist governments and all those mass-swindles connected with them. Similarly, it was an asylum of all kinds of lies and slanders against the first state of the proletarian dictatorship and its socialist system. It was silent in all languages on the serious peace policies of this state, on its exemplary work towards achieving the complete human emancipation of women through the Soviet Constitution and the development of economic and social forms of life that implemented the principle of equality in reality and facts. Further, it displayed no evidence of acts of International solidarity in support of the liberation struggles of colonial and semi-colonial peoples against imperialism; struggles, in which working, peasant, petty-bourgeois and intellectual women participated prominently and with enthusiasm. The social democratic women’s movement had turned into a bourgeois movement. In competition for faithful followers, it differed from feminism only in its phraseology, not in its essence. It no longer led the political parties and unions with which it was associated by clarifying problems of the women’s question, or by initiating and extending practical struggles. It was the pliable handmaid of those organisations which were in the service of the big bourgeoisie. It stupefied the class-consciousness of proletarian women by tolerating every anti-labour action of the Coalition policy and by compromising with” industrial peace” in the name of the “State Idea” and the “People’s Economy”, and thus it lulled to sleep their energy to fight. In spite of its internal degeneration the social democratic women’s movement had a strong and ascending external development. According to the report presented to the Brussels Conference of the Socialist International in 1928, there were 915,000 women in the parties connected with it; while the reformist unions boasted of 1.687,000 members. These numbers have since been surpassed.

In contrast to its former position, the social democratic women’s movement was no longer derided by “public opinion” and no longer persecuted by the authorities. It enjoyed strong support from both these quarters by virtue of its strong position in the state apparatus at the local administration level, in social insurance and in welfare work among the masses of proletarian women. It took root in countries with coalition governments - and especially where the female franchise had come into existence. Experience and intelligent women propagandists and organisers worked for them, misused the trust they had previously earned, a well as their complete knowledge of the situation and the psychology of the working women in order to deceive them and lead them by the nose. They fed and fortified their anti revolutionary pusillanimity and their fear of the revolution. This they did at a time when working women face the merciless rule of profit-greedy monopoly capital an also perceived the beginnings of the proletarian revolution and the immortal example of the revolutionary women in struggle who were building socialism in the Soviet Union The proletarian revolution that shall emancipate women ha to destroy reforll1sm amongst the working class in order to crush capitalism....

 

 

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Notes:

 

1. The representatives of the German Women Workers’ Union were Clara Zetkin and Emma Ihrer, Clara Zetkin read to paper •For the Liberation of the Woman!” I see Clara Zetkin. “Selected Speeches and Writings”, Vol. I, Dietz Verlag Berlin. 1957, p 3-11.

 

2. Clara Zetkin held this post from 1907 to 1917.

 

 

 

The Communist Women’s Movement

The communist women’s movement has a short but very momentous history. It is growing and playing its role in the most important epoch in the history of mankind. In the period of the world proletarian revolution which began with Red October in 1917, all economic and social barriers between human beings are being torn down and new forms of social life are being created, thanks to the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production and the materialisation of Communism as a social order. This violent upheaval of society is an imperative condition for a new and higher form of relationship between man and woman, parents and children, and subsequently for the complete freedom and equality of the whole of womankind. The communist women’s movement shall and is consciously going to serve this great purpose. People who have been oppressed and exploited by capitalism the world over must take it upon themselves to fulfil this end. They will become revolutionary militants under the leadership of the class-conscious proletariat. The activity of communist women is directed to arousing those broad masses of working women who have been robbed and trampled upon by the class supremacy of the big capitalists; it also has the objective of awakening women from all social strata who have been enchained by the sex-supremacy of men so that they become comrades-in-arms for this work of emancipation. The aspirations and activities of the doubly enslaved must be guided by the understanding that the world revolution is the only path to freedom.

The communist women’s movement continues on a higher level of historical and theoretical knowledge and practical work the task that the social democratic women’s movement had willingly undertaken to accomplish in the spirit of Marxism but had later betrayed. But in their approach towards the social order, economy and state of bourgeois society an unbridgeable antagonism yawned between the two movements. The question that fundamentally and tactically divided the two movements was whether the complete emancipation of women was to be achieved by the reform of bourgeois society or by thoroughgoing revolution. Having become bourgeois and, hence, anti-revolutionary, the social democratic women’s movement shrank back from understanding the clear and unambiguous lessons of the events that had taken place since 1914. In contrast, the communist women’s movement drew valuable conclusions, in theory and in practice, from the imperialist world War, the Russian Revolution and subsequent historical events. It was guided by a faithful adherence to the historical understanding of revolutionary Marxism and its consistent and vigorous Leninist application to the problems and tasks of the process of social development.

The starting point of the organised communist women’s movement was the founding congress of the Third International held at Moscow in March 1919. The relationship of this world proletarian organisation to the communist women’s movement reflected the advance in historical maturity of the social development for proletarian revolution in objective and subjective terms. The founding congress of the Third International, unlike that of the Second International, was not content with merely applauding the demand for equal rights for women and their participation in the ranks of the struggling proletariat. Foreign communist women could not participate in the conference because of the extraordinary difficulties of communication existing at that time with the Soviet Union. The First Congress of the Communist International adopted an unanimous resolution, moved by the Russian comrades, which acknowledged the total equality of women and recognised their significance as an indispensable force of the revolution. The Communist International accepted that it can fulfil the tasks before it and ensure the final victory of the world proletariat and the complete abolition of the capitalist system only with the help of the closely interlinked collective struggle of men and women of the working class. The dictatorship of the proletariat can only be realised and assured through the alert and active participation of working class women.” 1

The spirit of this resolution remained decisive for the development, expansion and influence of the communist women’s movement, as well as for its relationship to the Communist International and its national sections. The Second International had been ideologically and organisationally loosely structured and its commitment and leadership did not go beyond resolutions and demonstrations. The social democratic women’s movement developed within its framework though not under its leadership. The Third International learnt from the events of the imperialist era. It also learnt from the shortcomings, the final ignominious (sic.) failure and the betrayal of its predecessor. In contrast, the Communist International was ideologically and organisationally a tightly organised body. The communist women’s movement expanded and worked not only within the framework of the Third International, but also inseparable association with it and under its leadership. As a great world organisation of the stormily advancing proletariat, it, too, based its work and struggles on t: theory of historical materialism, further developed al raised to organised practice by Lenin, as well as on t: experiences and principles of the Russian Revolution. The leading principles and aims of the communist women’s movement necessitated the adoption of common international principles of organisation and action so that women workers of hand and brain together with their class brothers could fulfil and attain their historical significance as forces, that Revolution which would bring them freedom and equal rights.

International women’s conferences and deliberation held in connection with the World Congresses of the Communist International or the plenary sessions of its Executive Committee successfully fulfilled the above objectives. Women comrades naturally participated in a full manner in the discussions and voting on the reports al resolutions at these special conferences. The Second International Conference of Communist Women which was held in Moscow in 1921 gave a fundamental orientation to the principles, tactics and organisation of the communist women’s movement. It discussed and took decisions upon the guidelines for the international communist women’s movement which showed how clearly different it was not only from the suffragettes, but also from bourgeois reformist social democracy and its women’s movement. The guiding principle were based on the observation that private property was the ultimate cause of sex and class slavery and that only the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production and its transformation into social ownership could ensure total liberty for women. Such a far-reaching and fundamental upheaval of the social order had to be collective action of the propertyless and those who owned very little property, regardless of the sex to which they might belong. Without a revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat there could be no real and total emancipation of women; without the participation of women, capitalism could not be smashed and there could not emerge a new socialist order.

The guiding principles conclusively pointed out that the pre-condition for emancipation through communism was revolution, in which the fighting and triumphant proletariat established its dictatorship as the path leading to the objective of social transformation. The guidelines shred to pieces the deceitful and pernicious illusion that changed laws favouring equality of women, that social reforms improving the situation of the proletariat, that bourgeois dictatorship instead of proletarian dictatorship, were capable of bringing freedom and equality. The guiding principles explained that reforms of any kind were and remained merely patchwork solutions in an exploitative and enslaving bourgeois society they offered no solution to the women’s question or to the social question. After fundamentally rejecting reforms as being the “ultimate aims” of the communist women’s movement, they formulated a series of demands which were suited to allay to some extent the burning day-to-day issues in the lives of working women, which served as points of contact for communist educative and organisational work among these strata. They served to direct the understanding, will and determination of enlightened, people beyond day-to-day and partial demands, towards the seizure of power by the proletariat and the upheaval of society. Further, they served to strengthen and enhance their fighting ability for the revolution.

The guiding principles outrightly rejected the idea of organising communist women separately. They were to join the communist party of their country on an equal basis, as members with the same rights and obligations; women workers and female professionals had to belong to the unions of their male professional comrades. In view of certain social conditions of existence and the backwardness and inability of many men and women to comprehend the necessity and superiority of collective organisation, the communist party did require especial organs which with time would render themselves superfluous through their successful work. How these organs were composed - preferably of male and female comrades - was a question of expediency. The essential tenet of the international communist women’s movement was that systematically organised and energetic work had to be conducted by communist parties in all countries amongst proletarian and working women aimed at mobilising them en masse against capitalism and the bourgeois order.

The Third World Congress of the Communist International confirmed these guiding principles. In international conferences and deliberations of organised communist women, two of which were held in Berlin and the rest in Moscow, activity in important spheres of party work in trade unions, co-operatives and in the sphere of party education was analysed on the basis of these principles. Besides this, these conferences exhaustively worked to systematically carry out delegate meetings and conferences of women and women workers. This was a valuable means to win over working women outside the circle of the communist party to its campaigns and at the same time to educate them in social and community work. In the same way they took a stand on work in non-party mass organisations, especially in women’s organisations sympathetic to the party. National conventions of communist women encouraged the movement in the same way, naturally in conjunction with the communist party of the country. Two international women’s secretariats - one in Berlin for the West and the other in Moscow for the East -had been working since 1921 to promote strong links of the communist women’s movement in individual countries with one another and with the leadership of the Communist International. After the Fifth World Congress they united to form the women’s section of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. This had its headquarters in Moscow and it integrated all sections and organs of the proletarian world organisation. It acted as a model for the leadership of the national sections of the Communist International.

The adoption of common principles with regard to the fundamental approach and organisation of the communist women’s movement strengthened international unity of action and gave it momentum and staying power. In 1921 the appeal of leading women communists to help Soviet Russia, which was then suffering from famine, aroused innumerable women in capitalist countries to give self-sacrificing help and energetic support. International Communist Women’s Day on March 8 each year united growing numbers of developing revolutionary women in the Soviet Union and in capitalist, colonial and semi-colonial countries. It made them aware of their inextricable ties of international solidarity with one another and with their brothers for the realisation of communism. Women stood in the foremost ranks ready to work with all their might for the revolutionary cause and for their own emancipation whenever the national sections of the Third International called upon the proletarian masses and the workers of all strata to wage a consistent and resolute struggle against the danger of an imperialist war: against bourgeois social democratic or anti-Bolshevist smear campaigns which justified the anti-Soviet policy of economic strangulation of the first state of proletarian dictatorship and prepared for military assaults by imperialist powers against it.

As a result of their participation in the struggles of their brothers and because of their heroism and martyrdom, working women have secured for themselves a place in history which is one of great revolutionary value; in the uprisings of the peoples of Bulgaria, Rumania, and Yugoslavia who have been sucked dry and are socially and nationally underprivileged; in the struggle of industrial, rural and intellectual workers against fascism and terror in Italy, Poland and other countries; in the gigantic struggle of the miners in Great Britain; in the revolutionary assaults of workers, peasants, petty-bourgeoisie and intellectuals against national and social slavery in China, India, Indonesia, Indo-China, South-West Africa and other regions of imperialist plundering; in strikes and lock-outs of every kind and in every place in which women workers and wives of workers very often set an example; in unrelenting debates on socio-political measures, political and cultural rights of the poor and with regard to many other issues. The enthusiasm and determination of women to fight was heightened by consciousness of the ties of international solidarity whenever and wherever they actively intervened in events, even when this could not be manifested through actions. The revolutionary seeds of the ideas of the communist women’s movement are germinating and throwing up their shoots.

The women comrades who were organised in the Soviet Union provided the communist women’s movement with strong and well-trained battalions, indeed, a complete national army. What they gave was truly much and far more valuable than their mere numerical strength and their position of power as equals in the state of the proletarian dictatorship under the leadership of the Russian Communist Party; for, what they brought was the rich treasure-trove of their experiences as revolutionary fighters in the period of seizure and declaration of state power by the proletariat, as co-workers in the period of the exercise of power for socialist construction, and as partners in the task of awakening and educating the working women of the proletarian and peasant masses. Of course these experiences did not imply a thoughtless and slavish imitation in different historical circumstances by the communist women’s movement outside the Soviet Union, but they did offer a wealth of fruitful impulses and guidelines. The brilliant personal examples of the freedom fighters of Red October, the blockade period, the intervention and civil war and the heroic example of socialist construction of that time were an inexhaustible spring of revolutionary strength and inspiration for the international communist women’s movement. The communist women of all the non-Soviet countries could learn from them how one died for the revolution and - what was far more difficult - how one lived for the revolution.

Together with the Third International the communist women’s movement spread throughout the world. It lived and took effect not only in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, the countries of Central and South America, South Africa and Australia, but also revolutionised masses of women in the Near and Far East; women, who, bonded by thousands of years of economic and social life-forms, were the most oppressed of all female slaves. To be sure, the beginning of capitalist trade and vigorous capitalist production in some of these countries had consequently led to the emergence of a bourgeois women’s movement which had achieved remarkable success. However, even disregarding the bourgeois character and aims of this movement, it had been unable to engage in arousing and awakening the people and had thus failed to penetrate to the depths of society. It had therefore lacked the impetus of more extensive movements as well as the highest of objectives. The goal had been pointed out and the path forward shown by the shining Soviet star. There emerged in the countries of the Orient, in connection with the communist parties, a communist women’s movement which, particularly in China, was transforming the masses of proletarian and peasant women as well as innumerable educated and petty-bourgeois women into fearless revolutionary fighters. A women’s conference for the province of Hubei was convened in 1927 on International Communist Women’s Day. It introduced its programme of action with the following declaration: “The Revolution is the only path for the emancipation of women”.

The development and achievements of the communist women’s movement were creditable. Success should not become intoxicating; rather it puts us under obligation. It would be unworthy of communism if the organised pioneering women fighters were to measure their work amongst the masses of proletarian and working women against what has been achieved and - not against the magnitude and importance of the tasks that the period of declining world capitalism and the initiated and uninterruptedly maturing world proletarian revolution has set before them. The female and male representatives of the communist women’s movement ought not to see things as they should be, but must rather perceive them as they are in reality. Apart from its development and impact in the Soviet Union, it was still weak in both respects. In practically all of the national sections of the Communist International the central leadership and the organs under it had failed to sufficiently appreciate the necessity and value of the participation of the masses of working women in the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat and the historical reasons for this participation. Wherever imperialist capitalism rules and exploits, there the communist women’s movement came up against the power of the imperialist-capitalist economy, state and social system. In addition there existed the strong and unscrupulous competition of the bourgeois and social democratic women’s movements. The communist women’s movement is still young, and for historically comprehensible reasons, we find within it particularly evident weaknesses and mistakes on the part of the communist parties of different countries.

These and other circumstances that hinder the rapid and tremendous progress of the communist women’s movement are unable to retard it, on the contrary, they goad it on to unfold its determination and strengthen it to the highest degree. With Leninist conscientiousness it will examine with the help of dialectical materialism the conditions of its maturity and influence and, thanks to its firmly established theoretical understanding, ensure successful practical action. By learning, working and struggling, the communist women’s movement shall overcome all obstacles and difficulties which are confronting it. By virtue of its actions it will strengthen its claim to the equal importance of women as forces of revolution and communism. Of particular significance is the fact that the organised women communists overcome the mistakes and failings in their theoretical and practical approach; that they participate eagerly and intelligently in overcoming those mistakes and failings which accompany the process of development of the national sections of the leading mass parties of the revolutionary proletariat. The inspiring example of the first state of proletarian dictatorship stands before the communist women’s movement. This state had laid down the total equality of the female sex in its Constitution and ensured this equality through far-reaching mother and child care and other basic innovations. The communist women’s movement is carried and taken forward by the impact of objective forces which hasten the termination of the bourgeois social system, despite stabilisation and rationalisation under the merciless rule of imperialist monopoly capitalism. Along with the organised, revolutionary and fighting forces of the exploited masses of all states and regions under capitalist rule, the communist women’s movement also proves to be a subjective factor of upheaval and realisation of communism. It must win the masses of working women away from the anti-revolutionary bourgeois and social democratic women’s movements. The strength of numbers done that they boast of does not imply that they are a social revolutionary and liberating force. Of utmost historical importance for attaining the goal is to correctly appraise social development and summon the requisite reserves of will and deeds. Measured by these yardsticks the communist women’s movement emerges as the most superior force as compared to both of these counter-revolutionary movements, indeed, vis-a-vis all the forces of bourgeois society. This understanding, united with practical actions, shall instruct and unite the proletarian and working women around the Red banner. The triumph of revolution, which shall emancipate all of womankind, shall no less be the work of the communist women’s movement.

 

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Note:

 

1. See “Protocol of the Discussions held in Moscow from March 2nd – 19th”, Hamburg, 1921, p. 194.

 

 

CLARA ZETKIN - ARCHIVE