6 April 2010

Women: Revolutionaries

Women: Revolutionaries

We meet in the UJ Doornfontein Library. The next session will be as follows: 
  • Date: 8 April (Thursday)
  • Time: 17h00 sharp to 18h30 sharp
  • Venue: The Library, University of Johannesburg, 37 Nind Street, Doornfontein, Johannesburg (former Technikon Witwatersrand). Cars enter from the slip road to the left of the bridge on Siemert Road.
  • Topic: The Social Basis of the Woman Question.

International Woman’s Day was proposed 100 years ago by Alexandra Kollontai’s contemporary and comrade, Clara Zetkin [pictured above], at the Second International Women's Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1910.

Feminism already had a long history by that time, and the campaign for votes for women was at its height in some countries.

This series, "No Woman, No Revolution", is aimed at discussing the necessity of that more-than-half of humanity, women, being part of any socialist revolution, as well as the necessity of organising women as a mass, because the Parliamentary vote is not enough. This kind of approach concerning women became prominent with Zetkin and with Kollontai, who had published her pamphlet “The Social Basis of the Woman Question” (linked below) the year before, in 1909.

Kollontai saw two camps. I one camp was the feminists, who were bourgeois feminists. In the other camp were women who were proletarian, or partisans of the proletariat. She distinguished between these two camps as follows:

“However apparently radical the demands of the feminists, one must not lose sight of the fact that the feminists cannot, on account of their class position, fight for that fundamental transformation of the contemporary economic and social structure of society without which the liberation of women cannot be complete.

“If in certain circumstances the short-term tasks of women of all classes coincide, the final aims of the two camps, which in the long term determine the direction of the movement and the tactics to be used, differ sharply. While for the feminists the achievement of equal rights with men in the framework of the contemporary capitalist world represents a sufficiently concrete end in itself, equal rights at the present time are, for the proletarian women, only a means of advancing the struggle against the economic slavery of the working class. The feminists see men as the main enemy, for men have unjustly seized all rights and privileges for themselves, leaving women only chains and duties. For them a victory is won when a prerogative previously enjoyed exclusively by the male sex is conceded to the ‘fair sex’.

“Proletarian women have a different attitude. They do not see men as the enemy and the oppressor; on the contrary, they think of men as their comrades, who share with them the drudgery of the daily round and fight with them for a better future. The woman and her male comrade are enslaved by the same social conditions; the same hated chains of capitalism oppress their will and deprive them of the joys and charms of life. It is true that several specific aspects of the contemporary system lie with double weight upon women, as it is also true that the conditions of hired labour sometimes turn working women into competitors and rivals to men. But in these unfavourable situations, the working class knows who is guilty.”

“The working woman is first and foremost a member of the working class.”

Having made this case quite strongly, Kollontai proceeds to discuss “Marriage and the Problem of the Family”. This is where, as Frederick Engels had noted a quarter of a century before Kollontai, in his “Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State”, capitalism corresponds to the oppression of women, arising from the ancient history of property, and still continuing in the present time.

Engels demonstrated that the form of marriage in any society had always coincided with the relations of production. Kollontai, discussing the work of the bourgeois feminist Ellen Key, comes to the point of asking, in the second of the two following paragraphs: “Does the family wither away?”.

“Ellen Key’s devotion to the obligations of maternity and the family forces her to give an assurance that the, isolated family unit will continue to exist even in a society transformed along socialist lines. The only change, as she sees it, will be that all the attendant elements of convenience or of material gain will be excluded from the marriage union, which will be concluded according to mutual inclinations, without rituals or formalities — love and marriage will be truly synonymous. But the isolated family unit is the result of the modem individualistic world, with its rat-race, its pressures, its loneliness; the family is a product of the monstrous capitalist system. And yet Key hopes to bequeath the family to socialist society! Blood and kinship ties at present often serve, it is true, as the only support in life, as the only refuge in times of hardship and misfortune. But will they be morally or socially necessary in the future? Key does not answer this question. She has too loving a regard for the “ideal family”, this egoistic unit of the middle bourgeoisie to which the devotees of the bourgeois structure of society look with such reverence.

“But it is not only the talented though erratic Ellen Key who loses her way in the social contradictions. There is probably no other question about which socialists themselves are so little in agreement as the question of marriage and the family. Were we to try and organise a survey among socialists, the results would most probably be very curious. Does the family wither away? or are there grounds for believing that the family disorders of the present are only a transitory crisis? Will the present form of the family be preserved in the future society, or will it be buried with the modem capitalist system? These are questions which might well receive very different answers. ...”

Kollontai answers her own questions, thus:

“…the social influences are so complex and their interactions so diverse that it is impossible to foretell what the relationships of the future, when the whole system has fundamentally been changed, will be like.

“…ritual marriage and the compulsive isolated family are doomed to disappear.

To finish, Kollontai returns to the class question and the conflict of interest between the proletarian and the bourgeois feminists.



  1. Bernardo van Heerden-Baez-NATIONAL MARXIST FRONT-SOUTH AFRICA09 April, 2010

    I think you said it all in 4 words .......-"No Woman, No Revolution" (imperative concept)the title of the series ! Absolutely Superb !


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