quote:- from the
The persistence of gender inequality in the most advanced capitalist societies, with the most complete bourgeois democracy in which women have full formal equality, has put paid to the idea that women's liberation is possible within the framework of capitalism, even in its "healthiest" periods of expansion. Today, in a period of global capitalist stagnation and crisis, as the "gender gap" widens and women, especially in the Third World, bear the brunt of the capitalist class's neo-liberal offensive against the working class as a whole, the correctness of the Marxist analysis of women's oppression as a cornerstone of class society and its revolutionary approach to achieving women's liberation is clearer than ever before.
Since Karl Marx and Frederick Engels first developed their materialist conception of history in the 1840s, Marxism has sought to understand and combat the specific oppression of women. Engels' explanation of the roots of women's oppression in the main institutions of class society - private property and the family - rather than in the realm of the natural or biological, was an enormous advance, laying the foundations for a scientific approach to women's plight which posed, for the first time, liberation as possible.
In his 1884 work, The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, Engels identified the source of the oppression of women as their exclusion from social production and the conversion of household tasks into a private service. Both resulted from the replacement of collective production and communal property ownership with private male ownership of the basic means of production during the emergence of class society.
In pre-class societies, there was no material basis for exploitative relations between the sexes. Males and females participated in social production, the labour of both sexes being necessary to ensure the survival of the human group as a whole. The social status of men and women reflected the indispensable roles that each played.
The change in women's status occurred alongside the growing productivity of human labour as a result of developments in productive technologies, and the private appropriation of the resulting economic surplus. With the possibility for some humans to prosper from the exploitation of the labour of others, women, because of their role in production (both social production to maintain the existing generation and the biological production of the next generation), became valuable property. Like slaves and cattle, they were a source of wealth: they alone could produce new human beings whose labour power could be exploited.
Thus the purchase of women by men, along with all rights to their future offspring, arose as one of the economic and social institutions of the new order based on private property. Women's primary social role was increasingly defined as domestic servant and child-bearer; their independent role in social production became secondary.
The oppression of women was thus institutionalised through the family system. Women's role in production came to be determined by the family to which they belonged, by the man to whom they were subordinate. They were rendered economically dependent. In the words of Engels:
"The modern individual family is based on the open or disguised domestic enslavement of the woman; and modern society is a mass composed solely of individual families as its molecules. Today, in the great majority of cases, the man has to be the earner, the breadwinner of the family, at least among the propertied classes, and this gives him a dominating position which requires no special legal privileges. In the family, he is the bourgeois; the wife represents the proletariat."
The class divisions of society - between those who possessed property and those who, owning no property, had to work for others to live - were perpetuated through the legal institution of monogamous marriage, which enabled private property ownership to be passed from one generation to the next. The consolidation of the sexual division of labour in the family also enabled the propertied class to abrogate responsibility for the upkeep of members of society they could not immediately exploit (children, the elderly and sick).
In so far as the family, founded on the oppression of women, arose as a indispensable pillar of class society, it follows that women cannot be liberated without dismantling class society itself....
[ 21 September 2008: Message edited by: M. Spector ]