New Worker Banner

The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

Embracing Equality

The struggle for equal rights and the ending of all discrimination against women is re-affirmed every year on 8th March, International Women’s Day. In the people’s democracies and other parts of the Global South the day is genuinely celebrated to mark the end of feudal concepts and the emancipation of women, who Chairman Mao famously said “hold up half the sky”. The day was adopted as a holiday for women’s rights and world peace by the United Nations in 1977, but its origins go back to the early days of the modern socialist movement at the end of the 19th Century.

Marx and Engels wrote about the social situation of working women in their day. They focused on the exploitation of wage labour as well as the additional forms of inequality and oppression, exclusion and discrimination that were part and parcel of the capitalist system of oppression. In 1911 the Second International Socialist Women's Conference established International Women's Day to demand the right to vote, to fight against sex discrimination in the workplace and to hold public office. All these aims were achieved by the Russian revolutionaries in 1917. International Women’s Day became a public holiday in the first workers’ and peasants’ republic, and as Lenin put it; “the Soviet Republic of Russia promptly wiped out, without any exception, every trace of inequality in the legal status of women, and secured her complete equality in its laws.”

Capitalism has nothing to offer working women except exploitation, oppression and poverty. The problems working women face today are rooted in the capitalist way of organising society and production according to the criterion of maximum capitalist profit. They cannot be solved by imperialist associations and institutions, business groups and governments.

That’s why International Women’s Day is barely recognised in the imperialist heartlands beyond the inevitable commercialisation used to sell goods to the ‘women’s’ market. Likewise, bourgeois politicians all pay lip-service to its aims but they rarely go beyond their usual attempts to woo the ‘women’s’ vote. When women’s rights get a mention by the media gurus that serve the ruling class it is only as a tool for imperialist propaganda. They’ll point to the lack of women’s rights in Third World countries that defy the West – but ignore those of the feudal Arab oil princes and the servile dictators of South America that do the bidding of US imperialism. They’ll elevate the problems of middle-strata women in breaking through the ‘glass ceiling’ of bourgeois society whilst routinely ignoring the problems of inequality, homelessness, unemployment, domestic violence, drink and drugs that hit working class women the hardest.

Many of the issues affecting women naturally also impact on men and the fight for equality for women is a crucial part of the class struggle. Inequalities sow divisions in the class when unity and solidarity are most needed.

The emancipation of women can only be achieved under socialism. Or as Lenin put it: “It is precisely the Soviet system, and the Soviet system only, that secures democracy. This is clearly demonstrated by the position of the working class and the poor peasants. It is clearly demonstrated by the position of women…the working women s movement has for its objective the fight for the economic and social, and not merely formal, equality of woman. The main task is to draw the women into socially productive labour, extricate them from ‘domestic slavery’, free them of their stultifying and humiliating resignation to the perpetual and exclusive atmosphere of the kitchen and nursery.”