Working women’s liberation or bourgeois feminism?

The bra-burners and man-haters of the 1960s and 70s made our movement ridiculous, alienating the vast majority of working-class women.

Comrades Ella Rule and Deborah Lavin speak about the difference between women’s liberation and bourgeois feminism, while introducing the film Made in Dagenham to our meeting for International Working Women’s Day 2017.

It was at the 1910 international conference of socialist working women in Copenhagen that German Marxist leader Clara Zetkin first raised the idea of organising an International Working Women’s Day to mark the important victories of women workers in the US and to provide a focus for women around the world to organise public actions.

That conference broke vital new ground for the world socialist movement with its decision that every year, in every country, women should march under the slogan: “The vote for women will unite our strength in the struggle for socialism.”

On International Working Women’s Day in 1917, a massive strike of women textile workers in Petrograd marched in defiance of the tsarist regime’s repressive laws to demand “bread and peace”. It was to become one of the sparks that lit the flame of the February Revolution, which overthrew the autocracy and paved the way for the Great October Socialist Revolution.

This provided vindication, if any was needed, for those who had always held that women must be mobilised in the struggle for socialism, and that it is in their interests to participate in that struggle.

The Petrograd demonstration took place on the last Sunday in February, which until then had been the date of International Women’s Day. However, due to the discrepancy between the Julian (now in common use in most parts of the globe) and Gregorian calendars (then in use in tsarist Russia), it actually took place on 8 March and, in honour of the heroism of those Russian women, that is the date that has been marked ever since.

Despite improvements in the status of women in various imperialist countries, it is still the case that “Women are half the world’s population, yet they do two-thirds of the world’s work, earn one-tenth of the world’s income, and own less than one percent of the world’s property. They are among the poorest of the world’s poor.” This is admitted by former World Bank president Barber Conable.

It is only under socialism that women can hope for their emancipation. This is because, in a socialist society, meeting the needs of working people becomes the whole point of all economic activity – unlike the capitalist system, where such activity serves only as the production of profit for the benefit of a tiny minority of the super-rich.

Therefore, it is only under socialism that the facilities can be put in place that relieve women of the drudgery of household slavery and enable them to take part in every aspect of society on a fully equal basis with men.

This is why it was in the Soviet Union, the world’s first socialist country, that women were admitted en masse into every level of education and every kind of profession, and where it was first proved that women could do any job that men could do, which had certainly never been accepted before.

Equally, for the revolution against capitalism to succeed, all the oppressed and exploited people must be mobilised, including women. How could any revolution succeed that fails to mobilise no less than half of those who stand to gain from its success?