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.

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.

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.

"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.

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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"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"

"If one understands by “family” a compulsory union based on marriage contract, the blessing of the church, property rights, and the single passport, then Bolshevism has destroyed this policed family from the roots up."

"But the spell is broken. In the book of life
We will write the story of your victory.
March boldly, woman worker. Let your path
Be light with the torch of liberty."

We are publishing a short work of Clara Zetkin which she wrote on the basis of her conversations with Lenin on the women's question. It was first published in 1925. Zetkin explains that Comrade Lenin frequently spoke to her about the women's question. Social equality for women was, of course, a principle needing no discussion for communists. It was in Lenin's large study in the Kremlin in the autumn of 1920 that she had her first long conversation with Lenin on the subject.

"In the most communist of circles a need has arisen to oppose old practices by new forms, new symbols, not merely in the domain of state life, where this has largely been done, but in the domain of the family."