Working-class road to women’s emancipation

March 25, 2024

International Women’s Day is celebrated around the world March 8. On this occasion the Militant is printing excerpts from The Low Point of Labor Resistance Is Behind Us: The Socialist Workers Party Looks Forward by SWP leaders Jack Barnes, Mary-Alice Waters and Steve Clark. Copyright © 2023 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission. 

Frederick Engels, the founder of modern communism together with Karl Marx, pointed the way forward in 1885, when he wrote: “True equality between men and women can become a reality only when the exploitation of both by capital has been abolished, and private work in the home has been transformed into a public industry.”

The revolutionary Soviet republic under the leadership of Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and some decades later the Cuban socialist revolution under the leadership of Fidel Castro, created the first opportunities in history for a government of the working class to organize and lead a fight for women’s emancipation.

The domestic slavery confronting women, Lenin said, will change “only where and when an all-out struggle begins (led by the proletariat wielding the state power) against this petty housekeeping, or rather when its wholesale transformation into a large-scale socialist economy begins.”

Only the proletarian dictatorship could begin — begin! — eliminating the economic compulsion on which the oppression of women in all class-divided societies has been founded.

In both the USSR and in Cuba that revolutionary course began with electrification, including in the most isolated regions of the country, to advance all aspects of social, economic, and cultural transformation. It required eradicating illiteracy. It required providing apartments and rural dwellings with running water and sanitation, as well as schools, jobs, medical care, education in health and hygiene, laundries, and childcare centers. It required combating drunkenness, drug abuse, domestic violence, and gambling.

Lessons from these proletarian-led revolutions are central to our communist continuity and internationalism. These include lessons from the blows the Stalin-led counterrevolution in the USSR and Communist International dealt to women and their families from the latter 1920s to the collapse of that Stalinist regime in the closing years of the twentieth century.

A course to address the capitalist-caused crises bearing down on families in the working class and among other toilers is at the center of the fight for women’s emancipation today.

It begins with the fight by the working class to create the material and social conditions that will enable women and men to realize the basic conditions of our humanity. That means full participation in social labor and the ability to make conscious decisions, benefiting from advances in science and technology, including medical science, related to both production and human reproduction.

The road to the emancipation of the working class is the road to eradicating the historical roots not only of women’s second-class status, but all forms of exploitation, oppression, and extreme coarseness under capitalism, the final stage of class society and its brutalities.