The only day the world recognizes women is the one to celebrate their “reproductive” role as mother and wife, Mother’s Day. But it was the Soviets, the communist movement, that celebrated women as political beings with revolutionary power. March 8 is International Women’s Day (IWD), the day that communists organized to salute the strength and contributions of women workers.
Women are not docile but have been organizing and fighting back for hundreds of years. In the United States, the fight of the slave and of women began from the same thread. The Grimke sisters fought against slavery and for women’s rights as one and the same battle. Angelina Grimke declared, “Until he [a slave] gets his rights, we [women] shall never have ours.” Struggles led up to the German communist Clara Zetkin taking the initiative in 1910 to organize an official International Working Women’s Day. Anti-sexist struggle makes it a historic day for all workers, women and men.
Communists Fought to Smash Working Women’s Oppression
During Czarist Russia, the struggle for working-class women became synonymous with the open call for the overthrow of the government. During World War I, the Russian Bolshevik Party tried to turn March 8th into a demonstration of women workers against imperialism. On that day, the women of St. Petersburg began and led the February revolution in 1917.
Re-centering IWD within its rich revolutionary communist history helps increase the class-consciousness and organization of working-class women. This militancy is crucial to the future of the working class.
What is Sexism?
Much like racism, sexism is a systematic tool used by the bosses to divide the working class against itself. It is the special oppression of female workers. This is manifested in many forms. In 1921, Lenin wrote that “under capitalism the female half of the human race is doubly oppressed….not only are they exploited as members of the working class, “they continue to be ‘household slaves,’ for they are overburdened with the drudgery of the most squalid, backbreaking and stultifying toil in the kitchen and family household” (in a Supplement to Pravda No. 51). Part of this women’s unpaid housework includes raising children, which is seen as an extension of their “reproductive” role. These children go on to become the next generation of workers.
Bosses also use women as a disposable labor force. Not only are they paid less to do more work than their male counterparts, they are also sexually harassed, objectified, and subject to mass violence and genocide. Black, immigrant, Asian, and Latino women are triply exploited because of the racist nature of capitalism (see PL pamphlet Smash Racism). The super-exploitation and oppression of women workers affects the whole working class.
Men’s wages are depressed precisely because women’s are especially depressed. The differential pay between male and female wages serves to divide the working class. If men buy into the idea that their work is worth more, not only are they making it easier for bosses to super exploit women, they are also making it easier for bosses to exploit them.
Women working in unpaid labor at home are seen as profitable for men. The inexcusable violence against women is used to justify that it is “natural” for men to beat women. Both notions disregard the class content in sexism. When women are treated as domestic slaves, men become complicit with capitalism’s systemic inequality. Violence is a safety valve for capital, projecting men’s frustrations in their exploitation as wage slaves onto women.
How does a man who degrades his wife and children hurt from sexism? That male worker has divided himself against his family. In what could have been his source of strength against his alienation at work is now a source of disunity. And any temporary “gain” from having women perform tasks for men is greatly outweighed by the losses he experiences as a worker and as a father, partner, or friend of a female member of his own class.
Sexism Inherent in Capitalism
The inherent sexism in capitalism is clear within the context of maximizing profits. Historically, profits haven’t always existed as part of society. When people began accumulating wealth, society changed from a primitive egalitarian society to one defined by class (see PL pamphlet Communism and the Struggle Against Sexism). In fact, the enslavement of women, the ultimate producers of labor, was essential to class society. To produce surplus, despots had to have unpaid labor and therefore they subjugated and enslaved women. As bosses increased their accumulation of surplus value (profit, value produced by workers over and above their wages), the gendered divisions of labor — previously based on mutual agreements in hunter-gather societies — became coercive. Hence, sexism is an inherent part of capitalism.
Capitalism has become an international parasitic system, and the world is made dependent on the major capitalists. Women and families are alienated, coerced, evicted from their land, and forced to migrate to imperialist countries to earn wages. These women are given the lowest-paying, labor-intensive jobs, which again profit the ruling class. The U.S. profits significantly from the sweat and blood of black, Latino, and Asian immigrant women. Immigrant women are ruled under fascist conditions — working nearly from meal to meal, while nonimmigrant women workers, such as single mothers on welfare, are also treated in a viciously sexist and racist manner.
Sexism Means We Must Fight Back
Women workers have always fought back against oppression. In Bangladesh, thousands of garment workers, mostly women, shut down 700 factories and the roads to the capital, Dhaka. They also hurled bricks at the sexist cops who tried to tear gas and beat them.
These workers produce billions of dollars of profit for corporations such as Walmart and H&M clothing stores, while only earning pennies. Part of the struggle against sexism begins on the factory floor, where women learn to fight fear, an instrument through which the bosses’ state rules.
As these women fight against their super-exploitation, Arab women and children are defending their village against the Israeli fascists. Women nurses in Brooklyn joined their male colleagues in multi-gender unity, are also fighting hospital closings and massive cutbacks in benefits and wages.
Feminism HURTS Women Workers
Feminism, a bourgeois philosophy, disregards the class nature of sexism. Anti-sexist struggles must reject it, because it divides the working class by blaming male workers and shunning them from anti-sexist struggles. This all-class unity for women sets us up for fascism by mobilizing women against their own class interests and sharpening the racist attacks on all workers.
It is communism, never feminism, that fights to eliminate the sexist divisions of the working class. Only communism can eliminate sexism by abolishing the wage system where work will be divided based on need and commitment, liberating women from the direct responsibility of pre-natal care and child rearing. It will be shared equally with men. This will remove incentives for sexist divisions and workers will struggle to eliminate gender roles. Women will be valued according to their role in giving political leadership. This egalitarian foundation will give way to producing a society free from treating women as commodities.
For Communism, Women Must Lead Revolution
Historically, women are the most exploited of the working class. Class struggle is sharpest among the most exploited sectors of the working class. The experiences gained from this special oppression provides the basis for this leadership. Therefore, women are key to communist revolution.
The battle against sexism is an international one. When the woman worker in Haiti is raped, when a girl in Pakistan is sold into marriage, when a mother from South Africa is faced with eviction, this is an attack on the working class as a whole.
When we sharpen the contradictions between the ruling and the working class, workers will put anti-racist and anti-sexist politics at the forefront, doing away with the identities capitalism uses to divide us. We cannot fight sexism without having strong communist leaders who are women.
Though communists have made the greatest advances for women in the Soviet Union, most of the leadership was still male. PL has been fighting against sexism by maximizing women’s revolutionary potential and having them take more leadership roles, as occurred with the women who led the bakery workers’ fight against Stella D’Oro (see CHALLENGEs in 2009).
We need to expose sexism at work and in all the struggles we are involved in. The fight against sexism is a day-to-day struggle. Challenge sexist notions of male supremacy among co-workers. Raise anti-sexist politics at school. Rally against sexist healthcare cuts at your workplace. Write to CHALLENGE about your struggle against sexism. Women and men, black and white, must embrace communism as the only weapon against sexism.