AUSTRIA - What does class-conscious women’s movement mean?

Following article was published in the printed special edition "Die Kämpferin" ("struggling women") Nr 3, of the Antifascist Action – Newspaper in Austria, which is a special edition for the International Day against violence on Women, the 25th of November 2019. The article is from a regional group of the Red Women Committees in Austria. We want to publish an English translation, in order to support the theoretical and ideological discussion within the women’s movement worldwide. We think this article is a good contribution for the debate on proletarian feminism and how to develop it within class struggle.

What does class-conscious women’s movement mean?

The following contribution was sent from a regional group of the Red Women Committees. Because this question can also be important for our readers, we publish it as a contribution for discussion.

In the course of the preparations for the 25th of November, the Red Women's Committee of our region discussed the question what it actually means, to develop a class-conscious women's movement. Does that mean that it's just about the women workers, that only demands of the labor struggle are taken on, or even that only women of the working class can be part of a class-conscious women’s movement?

Ultimately, it’s about smashing patriarchy, so we will start now also at the very front, namely the patriarchy, which meant the “world historical defeat of the woman”, “the woman was degraded, enslaved, a slave of his [the man's] lust and mere tool of child caring.”[1] It is not about rejecting patriarchy morally, or uncovering why it would be unfair. No, but to to understand it in a scientific way.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the founders of the scientific socialism, were the first to analyze the development of patriarchy, its cause and essence. Patriarchy developed in the transition from the primitive society to the slave society, when opposed to the common-ownership the private property on production means [2] was established. That means when classes developed, one class which owns the production means and the other class that owns nothing and becomes exploited and oppressed. With this development also the woman was not only excluded from private ownership of production means, but became a "mean of production" herself (in meaning of a "birthing machine"). That created the condition not only for their humiliating among the man, but for their position within society. Not because the woman is "weak", the man is "bad", or because "men hunt and women give birth to children” there is patriarchy, but due to the development of the productive forces and means of production, the formation of classes (which, by the way, was a necessary step in the history to leave "the cave").

The woman has been subjected to special oppression by patriarchy since the slave society. With the enforcement of capitalism the female worker takes a special position now: she is now doubled exploited and oppressed. In the capitalist society (different than in feudal society, where the basic contradiction, on which the social order came into being and too go down, was between serfdom and property of land) there is a basic contradiction between wage labour and capital. This is the contradiction between workers and capitalists, between those who only own their labor and therefore are forced to wage labour and those who own the means of production. Both male and female worker are forced to wage labour, both are oppressed and exploited, but the female worker is double exploited and oppressed due to patriarchy (housework, child care, as well as concerning political and economical rights)!

Patriarchy has its root not only historically, but also very currently in the capitalist social order, in the private ownership of "production means", in the division of society in classes. So it can only be eliminated, by the abolition of the classes!

Patriarchy can not be abolished in the present class society, even not by the very best reforms. It can only be abolished through smashing the class rule, today capitalism.

What do we conclude from this? It is not about fighting against men, because the necessary closing of ranks with the workers would not allow that. The unity with the working class corresponds entirely to the objective interests of women (whether they're part of it or not). Because that means the unity with that class, which as well is based on the contradiction of private ownership on means of production. With the sole consistent revolutionary class of history, with that class, which has interest to finally eliminate class rule – and thus the oppression of the woman!

So what are we talking about when we talk about class-conscious? That all everyday political demands have to serve the goal of unity in the struggle of women and working class. That our orientation and direction in women's struggle must be directed against the rule of capital. That the women are mobilized and organized to support and develop revolution, because that is necessary to smash the root of patriarchy! A class-conscious women's movement, that means not to struggle isolated, but united with all oppressed and exploited. That doesn't just mean to struggle against appearances, but also against their cause! Nora

[1] Friedrich Engels: The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State

[2] These are devices, machines etc. with whom man makes goods.

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