Revisiting socialism and women’s liberation

March 10, 2011

This article is by Kassie Hartendorp, organiser of the Wellington branch of the Workers Party. The article will be printed in three parts, in the new Women’s Liberation section of The Spark.

Historically, one of the most controversial topics within Marxist theory is ‘the woman question’ which continues to create debate and disagreement within socialist politics. August Bebel defines the woman question as dealing “with the position that woman should hold in our social organism, and seeks to determine how she can best develop her powers and her abilities, in order to become a useful member of human society, endowed with equal rights and serving society according to her best capacity.” Because the demand for women’s rights is often seen to conflict with the priority of class struggle, some Marxists have refrained from tackling this topic, as it has not been uncommon for groups to split over disagreements on how to end women’s oppression. In this article we will review four writers; Frederick Engels, August Bebel, Clara Zetkin and Alexandra Kollontai and analyse what they have put forward in regards to women’s suffrage, marriage and the family, motherhood and love, and sexuality. This is only a small selection of the plethora of issues within the woman question, but due to word restraints, I will be just discussing these four areas. We choose here to use the term ‘women’s oppression’ rather than the more recently used ‘gender inequality’. While the terms are similar, the former is the historically specific description of the oppression and exploitation of women within the longer trajectory of capitalism. Read the rest of this entry »


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