Marx was very harsh in his criticism of bourgeois morality and society on the question of women. Marx and Engels elaborated a theory of the oppression of women, which is still debated today. Marxism argues that, fundamentally, the oppression of women rests with the emergence of private property in human societies and not with biological differences between women and men. How so?
Marxism argues that women were enslaved to satisfy the needs of private property relations. By private property, Marxists are referring to the individual ownership of those things that are utilized in the production of the economic way of life of a particular society.
At one time, the major means to produce the economic way of life of society were not owned by individuals. Land, for example, was not the private property of individuals but the domain of the group as a whole.
The emergence of private property was the basis on which class divisions in society evolved and signaled the enslavement of the female gender.
Women of propertied classes were enslaved to the reproduction of the heirs to private property. Ideologically, the notion of the inferiority of women became infused in the culture influencing the lifestyle and ways of property-owning and non-property-owning classes. Women of non-property- owning classes were enslaved to the precarious process of trying to eke out a means of subsistence, as were men, and child bearing and rearing. Under capitalism, particularly in our country, the precariousness of the lives of the masses of women can be readily observed. Women are by and large of the working class and are by and large low-wage workers or unemployed. Our capitalist society takes on little responsibility for the welfare of human beings be they women, men or children. In our society, all women suffer gender oppression, but working-class women are also exploited and women of color suffer national amd racial oppression as well.
Hence, the potential of women to engage in struggle, which I will refer to as the movement of women, is much broader and deeper that the traditional women’s movement, as grand as the traditional women’s movement is and has been. The potential of women to engage in struggle around a range of multifaceted issues in their own interest and in the interest of their families is vast.
It is the responsibility of the working class, the communist movement in particular, to win women to the side of socialism and to the side of the working class as the only real solution to the exploitation and oppression women face.
Socialism will not automatically solve the problems of women, as history reveals. Socialism allows for the creation of conditions conducive to continuing to consciously struggle to solve the inequality and oppression of women, the nationally and racially oppressed, and the working class.
Conscious forces must get the point: we can not claim to be scientific yet backward on the question of women or race and nationality.
Male supremacy has many purposes: the main one being extra profits and the domination and control of women. We cannot claim to be steadfastly opposed to bourgeois ideology yet embrace and promote male supremacy in any form. We cannot claim the goal of freeing the working class without working to win to the side of the working class all of the forces who seek freedom as well. To begin the process of freeing humanity from exploitation and oppression is the task of socialism. Socialism can not be allowed to fail women. It will not work; it cannot be done; it will not last!
Dee Myles is the chair of the Communist Party’s Education Commission.