Theory: Identity & oppression

marxism poster women 1 Image public domainFor Marxists, the fight against oppression goes hand in hand with the class struggle. While we recognise that different groups in society suffer different forms of oppression, we affirm that this oppression is rooted in the class system itself. Racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia are deeply ingrained in capitalist society. However, the Marxist method of historical materialism allows us to trace the roots of these ideas, looking at how they’ve evolved historically and the role they play in society today.

No form of oppression is built into our DNA, nor naturally ordained. The systematic attack against specific groups was not possible before the emergence of the state and class society. As it developed, these ideas have helped uphold the position of the ruling class. In modern society, segregation, violence against women and disenfranchisement are all examples of ways to keep the working class divided, downtrodden and less able to organise against its common exploiter – the capitalist class. 

In Lenin’s book, What is to be Done? he explains how uniting struggles is not the same as merging them all into each other. It is precisely this approach that we take in the fight against oppression. Using class methods, we seek to strike these forms of discrimination at their core. By pitting us against one another, the ruling class creates the idea that an individual worker can benefit from the oppression of another. This is a lie. All means of discrimination serve to put a constant downward pressure on conditions and quality of life for the working class, creating a race to the bottom. The only way to fight against this is to unite the workers of all nations, races, genders and sexualities along class lines. This is how we will ensure the full liberation of all of humanity.

This article was first published in German by the comrades of Der Funke, the IMT in Austria. Here we provide an English translation on this important question of Queer Theory. Is it compatible with Marxism? Can there be such a thing as “Queer Marxism”? Yola Kipcak in Vienna replies in the negative, and explains why.

Today is 50 years since the Stonewall riots of 28 June 1969, which marked the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement. Following other revolutionary events of the 1960s, the riots – described as the “hairpin drop heard ‘round the world” by the New York Mattachine newsletter – marked a shift amongst LGBT people away from individualised, small-scale activism and towards mass protest and demonstrations.

On 28 June 1969, a riot just outside the Stonewall Inn bar, located on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village, New York City, marked a turning point in the fight for the emancipation of LGBTQ people. That night, the bar was raided by the police, which was all too common at the time with gay bars. But this time, gay people didn’t let the police walk over them. They stood up to the NYPD in an unprecedented weekend of rioting. This courageous act transformed the movement and led to thousands of LGBTQ people coming “out of the closet, into the streets!” It is important to revisit these events and draw the main lessons for today.

To mark International Working Women's Day - 8th March - we publish a talk from the 2018 Revolution Festival, where Ellen Morton and Fiona Lali of the Marxist Student Federation discuss the modern struggles taking place internationally against women's oppression.

In February 1918, the UK Representation of the People Act was brought in, giving the right to vote to women with property over the age of 30. In November of the same year, women in the UK were allowed to stand for parliament for the first time. In December, women voted for the first time in a British general election.

This document, after a thorough discussion at all levels of the International Marxist Tendency over the past year, was approved unanimously by the IMT World Congress held at the end of July 2018 with the original title Marxist Theory and The Struggle Against Alien Class Ideas. Its aim is to draw a line between Marxism and a set of idealistic and postmodernist alien class ideas, which have affected for some time a layer of activists in academic circles and are also being used in a reactionary manner within the international workers' movement.

50 years ago, women at the Dagenham Ford Factory began a strike that became a turning point in the fight for equality. It was not the first such strike, and it would certainly not be the last. However, by standing up against bosses, union officials, and even other workers, they would send a message that has stood the test of time and inspires still.

On Friday 25 May, Ireland went to the polls to decide whether to repeal the 8th amendment of the constitution, which denied women the right to abortion as long as the unborn fetus had a heartbeat. Under these laws, which are part of the legacy of the Catholic Church’s domination of Ireland, abortion was illegal, even under the horrific circumstances of rape, incest or fetal abnormalities. The repeal of the 8th amendment is an epoch-making slap in the face against the Catholic Church and the establishment in the Republic.

We reproduce here a letter that Harry Whyte (a British Communist Party member) wrote to Stalin in May 1934, in which Whyte posed the question: “can a homosexual be considered someone worthy of membership in the Communist Party?”.

We publish here in English an oft-quoted text, The Sexual Revolution in Russia, by Dr. Grigory Batkis, published in German in 1925 as a contribution to the proceedings of the World League for Sexual Reform. Unable to locate an English language edition, we found a copy of the German original and had it translated by our German and Austrian comrades of the IMT.

A wave of mass protests has spread across Spain in response to yet another display of crass sexism by the Spanish state. In an unambiguous case of brutal gang rape, the so-called La Manadaaffair, a Spanish court has delivered a verdict of “sexual abuse”, not rape. One of the three members of the jury even called for the acquittal of the accused. As a result, the defendants have received shockingly lenient sentences.

The October Revolution radically changed the situation for homosexuals in Russia, as it did for women. In 1922 the first criminal code of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) was passed as law. In 1918 all the old Tsarist laws were suspended and when finally, after a few years of debate, the new constitution was adopted, homosexuality or “sodomy” as it was called, was decriminalised. This was an enormous advance for homosexuals, who under the Tsar could be arrested and sentenced to years of imprisonment or sent to labour camps.

In March 1934 Stalin re-criminalised homosexuality across the whole of the Soviet Union. Henceforth anyone involved in homosexual acts could be sent to prison for three to five years. In the early years of the Russian Revolution, however, homosexuality had been legalised – but this is something you will find little mention of in the literature produced by the official Communist Parties after 1934. Today’s Stalinists, who model themselves on Stalin’s regime, have a lot of explaining to do.

In this article, Miguel Jiménez explains the origins of International Working Women’s Day, which was born out of the socialist movement of the 19th Century, and became fixed in revolutionary calendars by the February insurrection of 1917...

What happened in Spain on International Working Women’s Day was remarkable. A commentator in the Barcelona daily El Periódico described it as “more than a strike, almost a revolution”. Over 6 million workers, mainly women but also men, came out on strike, the first time a strike had ever been called to mark 8 March. Hundreds-of-thousands participated in huge demonstrations in over 120 cities in a mass movement that can only be compared to the indignados in 2011 or the huge anti-war marches of 2003.

Speaking on International Working Women's Day (8th March) at the Sheffield Marxist Society, Natasha Sorrell discusses the history of the movements for universal suffrage.

Every year on 8th March, International Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world. Most people are not aware of the fact that on 8th March 1917, it was actually women who started the events that led to the Russian Revolution.

We have witnessed a colossal increase in women's struggles, with mobilizations in defense of gender equality growing larger in recent years. Every 8 March, International Women’s Day, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly women, go out into the streets to resist inequality.

We publish here a series of essential texts on the subject of women and the Russian Revolution by the likes of Lenin, Trotsky and leading female Bolsheviks like Krupskaya and Kollontai.

In recent years the struggle against gender oppression and sexual orientation-based discrimination has developed into mass movements in many countries. We have seen large-scale protests expressing anger and rebellion – that had been building up for years and decades – against an exasperating interference of a system that not only forces you to struggle daily to make ends meet, but also claims the right to decide what you can or cannot do in your private lives, who you can have a relationship with, sexual or otherwise, whether you can raise a child, etc., and subjects anyone who departs from the norms of the so-called “traditional family” to a social and legal ghetto.

The crisis of capitalism has given rise to a mood of questioning and mass movements across the world. From the Spanish Indignados, to the Syntagma Square in Greece, and more recently the Nuit Debout in France, youth are starting to take action and challenge the capitalist system. As part of this general mood, recent years have also seen a number of spontaneous movements erupt against the multiple forms of oppression that different layers of the working class experience under capitalism.

The history of Bolshevism from the very early days right up to the Russian revolution contains a wealth of lessons on how it is the class struggle that provides the final answer to the women’s question. In this article Marie Frederiksen looks at the approach of the Bolshevik Party to the women’s question from its early days, right through to the revolution and after taking power.

Every year on March 8th, International Women’s Day is celebrated all over the world. Today, it has become what is essentially a day to raise awareness about the oppression of women. This year, it has particular significance because it is also the anniversary of the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Most people are not aware of the fact that on March 8th 1917 it was actually women who started the events that created the revolution. This began a revolutionary process that brought the working class to power, allowing for spectacular advancements for women.

International Working Women's Day demonstration.

Working women have been struggling for complete equality in the workplace for over a century. In fact, a common thread running through many countries throughout the 20th Century was the struggle for “equal pay for work of equal value”, which meant irrespective of gender a worker should receive the same wage for the same kind of work. We are still not there, and with the onset of the crisis in 2008 things have begun to get worse.

Ylva Vinberg, editor of the Swedish Marxist Journal, Revolution, speaks on the attitude of Marxists towards Feminism.

Two women munitions workers stand beside examples of the shells produced at National Shell Filling Factory No.6, Chillwell, Nottinghamshire during the First World War. Nicholls Horace © IWM (Q 30017)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the media is dedicating much time and attention to it. However, one aspect which so far has not received sufficient consideration is the role played by women during those dramatic and bloody years.

Demonstration of Front de Gauche, May 2013. Photo: Philippe Leroyer

What are the origins of women's oppression? And how do we fight it? These are vital questions to ask in a society where working class women are twice oppressed - both as workers and as women.

Women in the Paris Commune.

“We have come to the supreme moment, when we must be able to die for our Nation. No more weakness! No more uncertainty! All women to arms! All women to duty! Versailles must be wiped out!” These were the words of Nathalie Lemel, participant in the Paris Commune of 1871, and member of the Union des Femmes pour la Defense de Paris et les Soins aux Blesses (The Union of Women for the Defense of Paris and Aid to the Wounded).

November 22, 2007, Paris. Photo: Philippe Leroyer

Russian working class women gained much from the October revolution of 1917 and the subsequent planned economy that was put in place. Later under Stalin many of the gains were destroyed, although as the economy developed the conditions of women also improved. The return of capitalism in Russia dramatically worsened the conditions of women. How does all this compare to the current situation working class women are facing in the UK?

One hundred years ago today, 99 women from 17 different countries attended the Socialist Women's Conference held in Copenhagen in the House of the People. In this article, we look at the origins of Women's Day, the origin of women's oppression in class society, and how capitalism has laid the material foundations upon which the question of women's emancipation can be tackled. Experience shows that once women start to organise in the workplace and fight for their rights, this cuts across divisions, unites men and women workers and strengthens both the position of women and the working class as a whole. The emancipation of women is an integral part of the struggle of the working class for

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Lis Mandl spoke at the IMT Winter School on the subject of "Women and Revolution". She looks at how the recent financial crisis has affected working women and how the women’s question is inseparable from the struggle of the working class as a whole.

Rosa Luxemburg

Lis Mandl looks at how Rosa Luxemburg considered the women’s question as inseparable from the struggle of the working class as a whole. She also looks at how the struggle for women’s rights was also a struggle against the reformists within the movement who constantly tried to limit demands for full women’s emancipation.

Tomorrow is International Women's Day. Although governments and political parties around the world pay lip service to women's liberation, the liberation of women remains elusive. Barbara Humphries, long-term labour movement activist and Marxist, spoke on Wednesday evening at the ULU Marxist Society in London on the origins of International Women's Day, the necessity for capitalism to divide society on the basis of sex and how the emergence of class society made women second-class citizens.

The liberation of women and the socialist revolution are inseperable tasks requiring the active participation of women workers in the organised labour movement. This recording of Barbara Humphries speaking at the Socialist Appeal xmas day school explains the double expoitation of women under the capitalist system, the history of women in the labour movement, the impact of imperialist aggression on women and the nature of feminism and positive discrimination.

Mainstream feminism has attempted to reduce March 8th to a vague and depoliticised celebrationof the female sex as a homogenous group, but to socialists and working class women the world over, it is a day for mobilizing, a day of class struggle. It was in fact first launched by Clara Zetkin at the second International Conference of Women Socialists, held in Copenhagen in 1910, with the aim of mobilizing women for the struggle against bourgeois domination.

Today, March 8, is International Working Women's Day. To celebrate this important day we are publishing an article on women and the Russian Revolution. It shows how that single event did more for women than any other struggle that had come before it and indeed after as well. First published (July 18, 2002) in issue Number 5 of 'In difesa del marxismo', the theoretical magazine of the Italian Marxist journal FalceMartello.

Tomorrow, March 8, is International Working Women’s Day, and to mark this important event we are publishing this article. It was first printed in issue Number 5 of ‘In difesa del marxismo’, the theoretical magazine of the Italian Marxist journal FalceMartello. Although originally written for an Italian audience we believe it is of interest to labour movement activists and youth around the world.

Women now form over 50% of the workforce in this country. One in five households are headed by a female breadwinner and the majority of women can expect to take up paid employment at some stage in their life. Employment is also widespread amongst women with young children. These are world-wide phenomena. In the United States 99% of women will at some stage form part of the workforce. The same trend is occurring in the developing world. The two income household is now firmly established.

"Still waiting after all these years" - these words (with apologies to Paul Simon) could easily apply to the search for equal pay for women.

While middle class feminists regard the oppression of women as an inherent biological trait of men, Marxism explains that the root of women's oppression lies not in biology, but in social conditions. Marxism sees the liberation of working class women as a part of the struggle for the liberation of the working class as a whole. While feminists set women against men, the socialist movement attempts to forge solidarity between male and female workers in a common struggle against capitalist exploitation.

For Marxists, the root cause of all forms of oppression consists in the division of society into classes. But oppression can take many forms. Alongside class oppression we find the oppression of one nation over another, racial oppression, and the oppression of women.

This month in our Women's section we are publishing an article on the history of the struggle of women to win the right to vote. Barbara Humphries looks at this history and how it relates to the development of the class struggle.

Marxism has always been at the forefront of the cause of women's emancipation. The 8th of March (International Women's Day) is a red letter day for us as it symbolises the struggle of working class women against capitalism, oppression and discrimination throughout the world. In this article, we outline the first steps given by Marxism to fight for women's rights, what the first successful revolution meant for the emancipation of women, conditions of women under capitalism both in advanced and Third World countries and pose the question of how to eliminate inequality between men and women for good.

Women have traditionally been regarded as a backward layer of society and a bulwark of the Church and reaction. This "backward" character, however, is not something innate to women, as the bourgeoisie would like us to believe. The explanation for this is not to be found in any biological differences, but in the double exploitation that women suffer under capitalism. As Bebel succinctly put it, "The female sex suffers doubly: on the one hand suffering under the social dependence on men... and on the other hand, through the economic dependence to which they are all subject, as women in general, and as proletarian women in particular; in the same way as proletarian men." (A. Bebel, Women

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In his book Perestroika: New Thinking for our Country and the World, Gorbachev claims that women in the Soviet Union have "the same right to work as men, equal pay…every opportunity to get an education, to have a career and to participate in social and political activities." The reality, however, is different. Seventy years after the revolution, despite legal equality, the Soviet Union still cannot justifiably claim the liberation of women.

The life of Sylvia Pankhurst is rich in experience for all activists in the labour movement. The names of the Pankhurst family are synonymous with the struggle to win the vote for women, but what distinguished Sylvia Pankhurst's approach from that of her mother Emmeline and her sister Christabel were class issues. It resulted in the 1920s, after nearly twenty years of struggle, with Emmeline standing as Tory Parliamentary candidate and Sylvia becoming a founder member of the British Communist Party. The seeds of such a divide were there from the early days of the suffragette organisation.

"The revolutionary power gave women the right to abortion, which in conditions of want and family distress, whatever may be said upon this subject by the eunuchs and old maids of both sexes, is one of her most important civil, political and cultural rights"