18th century artist's impression of Kalina hunter gatherers.

One of the great classics of Marxism is the book by Frederick Engels entitled ‘The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State’. Engels applies the method of historical materialism to this earliest period of pre-history to uncover the past. As a contribution to International Women’s Day, we are republishing an article by Mary Hansen and Rob Sewell which examines this question.

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?

Cairo, February 4. Photo: 3arabawy

“I really believe the revolution has changed us. People are acting differently towards each other.” These are the words of Ms Kamel, 50, one of the many women who were out on Tahrir Square, actively participating in the revolution.

The crisis of capitalism means attacks on workers at all levels, including women, who very often work in low paid jobs. The Austrian Social-Democratic Women’s Organisation prides itself at being “feminist”. However, when it comes to sacking women workers or cutting their wages the “feminism” of this organisation proves to be wafer thin, as we see in this case of the Sozial Global AG company in Vienna.

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 the emancipation of the whole of humanity.

Ruby Dhalla, Canadian liberal MP.

The case against Ruby Dhalla in Canada, although yet to be judged by a court, demonstrates that women do not have the same interests at heart. Women are divided by class, just like racialized minorities are divided by class, and people of different sexual orientation are divided by class.

Women demonstrating against immigration laws in France. Photo by looking4poetry on Flickr.

The present economic crisis, through its sheer scale and reach, is bringing about a wholesale change in the consciousness of working people the world over. It is the poor, the oppressed, and the workers who shoulder this weight in order to hold up the privileges of the rich. There is no portion of the working class that has so greatly and extensively borne this affliction than working women.

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.

Many in the US corporate media have hailed “progressive” the choice of Sarah Palin by John McCain as his vice presidential running mate. Women workers are being told that they “finally have someone to vote for!” But even the most cursory glance at Palin’s politics is enough to show that she stands for big business interests, and is only using the gender question as a fig leaf.

The idea of guaranteed quotas for women on trade union and party committees has become fashionable. But there are no shortcut solutions to this problem. Inequality exists because of capitalism and will continue to exist as long as capitalism exists. This inequality can only be fought by a united struggle of the whole labour movement. Only when capitalism is abolished and a system of democratic planning introduced will we be able to create the material basis for all inequality and prejudice to whither away once and for all.

Today is International Working Women’s Day – originally instituted not as a day to celebrate, but as a day for militancy and action. Now many liberal institutions and feminist organizations recognize International Women’s Day, but few acknowledge its roots or its historical significance. They have in fact attempted to remove the class content of this day of struggle.

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.

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