Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

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Women and Socialism

Preface

This pamphlet was first published in December 1995. A second reprint coincided with the election of the Labour government in May 1997 and we are now publishing a third edition in a period where both male and female workers are being made unemployed to which the Labour government has been ineffectual to prevent.

Labour's promises offer little to working class women because the problems they suffer as workers remain. Even if Labour succeed in achieving their promises the class divisions between capitalists who own the means of production and the working class who have to sell their ability to work in order to exist will still exist.

In a class divided society, Labour - like any other government - cannot provide working class women with the same security and comfort that is available to women and men of the capitalist class. Labour exists to serve the interests of British capitalism not the interests of all society.

When Labour refers to "minimum wages", "private and state schools", "benefits", and "business men and women and the pensioner on a council estate" they explicitly accept the class division of society. They do not exist to abolish class divisions, minority monopoly of social wealth production and the imposition of Capitalism in our lives.

The Labour government may set a minimum wage, but in the past workers in such schemes have accepted lower wages in order to keep jobs. The capitalist class also cannot pay the minimum wage if the market does not permit it. Moreover, many employers now employ women only on a part-time basis (thus evading payment of National Insurance contributions). It is doubtful if a minimum wage will apply in these circumstances, at whatever level it is set. And a minimum wage, set at a level acceptable to employers, will inevitably be a poverty wage.

Every time that Labour has formed the government and served its time in political power, the number of unemployed has increased by the time it has been voted out agin. This does not promise much for the "one million single mothers trapped on benefits" which apparently includes the "many women who want to work". And we are told that "one in five non-pensioner families has no one working".

When you know that the capitalist class wants everyone working because employment would provide surplus value, the surplus wealth above that necessary to cover wages, then you will realise that capitalist governments, including Labour, do not want unemployment. And what does surplus value mean? It means profit for the capitalist. Surplus value is the source of the unearned income of rent, interest and industrial profit, and so provides new capital for the continued exploitation of the working class.

Why have past Labour, Liberal and Conservative governments done nothing about unemployment? Briefly, they cannot do a thing. If the market for commodities declines and the workers are unable to produce surplus value, and specifically, they cannot produce the value of their own wages or salaries, then they are laid off. So unemployment of both women and male workers is endemic to capitalism. Further, if unemployment becomes low and wages rise in consequence, the capitalists either import workers from abroad or invest in labour saving machinery. A reserve army of unemployed is necessary to capitalism.

When the National Health Service was established in 1948 it was going to provide an adequate health service from the "womb to the tomb". It was going to be freely available. The offer of "helping the thousands of women waiting for breast cancer treatment" is as spurious as the original offer of a "free" health service. How right we were to publish the pamphlet BEVERIDGE REORGANISES POVERTY in 1943. Do you think that the capitalist class with all their wealth will be unable to jump the queue and obtain preferential and better health treatment?

Some other traumas and problems mentioned by Labour in their manifesto as going to be dealt with are "rape and serious sexual offences", "pension splitting between men and women on divorce" and help to build "strong families". These promises highlight how unpleasant capitalist society is for women and men. There is no security and comfort. Social relationships are blighted under pressures of competition and having to live on a wage. Sexual relations and sexuality are distorted, trivialised and brutalised by a system which turns everything into commodoties to be bought and sold and where advertising creates an imagery of instant gratification and disposability. Families under capitalism are part and parcel of capitalist society. Workers' family relationships are distorted and often destroyed by the pressures of capitalism. governments - Labour or Tory -can do precious little about this.

We have quoted extensively from Labour's manifesto NEW LABOUR - BECAUSE BRITAIN DESERVES BETTER. Like all manifestos published by capitalist political parties it was designed to get your vote. Once elected you will be forgotten and Labour will get down to the business of administering British capitalism in the interests of the British capitalist class. The only solution for working class women and men, is, as our pamphlet argues, the establishment of Socialism.

We have received one criticism of the pamphlet from a member of a political party in Clapham calling itself the Socialist Party, one of three parties of that name in this country. We have dealt with the criticism in SOIALIST STUDIES NO 22. The Clapham sect has embraced feminism just as that political reform movement eclipsed. A similar fate befell its support of Solidarity who then went on to form a ruthless anti-working class government. Its flirtation with anarchists has seen it drift to the very extremity of politics. It has gained nothing but a falling and increasingly apathetic membership. SPGB remains hostile to the anti-socialist and anti-working class ideas found within feminine discourse. You cannot become a member of SPGB while simultaneously belonging to a feminist organisation. Women workers are now finding out that female capitalists are just as ruthless, exploitative and competitive as their male counterparts.

SPGB does not court fashionable causes in the misguided belief that it will increase the membership of the party. A political party working for the establishment of Socialism and working class emancipation must represent only the interests of the entire working class. It cannot and must not take up the sectional interests of different groups of the working class. SPGB works for class unity on the basis of shared class interests as a matter of principle.

We ask you to read our pamphlet. if you agree or disagree let us know. If you are thinking of joining then you will be seeking membership from a party which has never discriminated along lines of race, sex, or age. We have only asked of applicants that they, understand, accept, defend and agree with the OBJECT AND DECLARATION OF PRINCIPLES: a clear statement of what we mean by Socialism, why we know that it is necessary and how we think it can best be achieved.

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Introduction

The purpose of this pamphlet is to state the socialist arguement in regard to the situation of working class women in capitalist society. It should be noted that to be working class a person has to be dependant upon the sale of the power to work, or to be dependant on another's ability to command a wage or salary in order to live. Thus today a working class woman, in order to live, must be able to sell her own labour power or to have a partner who supports her who is also dependant on the sale of labour power. A minority of women live on the proceeds of capital. The capitalist, someone who owns enough capital to be able to live well of the proceeds and does not need to sell his or her labour power, will only pay the workers: children, women and men, the rate determined by the market. Their standing in society is related to their ownership of wealth, NOT to their sex.

It cannot be denied that the majority of women in British society are in a position of inequality which results in discrimination against them. This discrimination has taken many forms: at work, in the family, the home and society generally. In this pamphlet we hope to show that this oppression is due to being members of the working class, and not to being female. From the moment of their birth, capitalist society attempts to mould all children to meet its needs: working class girls as mothers, housewives and up to recently a reserve of labour. In the late 20th century women constitute some fifty percent of the labour force in Britain.

All societies train their juvenile members to act to maintain that society. today most people accept capitalism and have no desire to abolish it. however all class societies have problems which lead to fundamental change and revolution. Human society has experienced several revolutions which have changed the position of women in society and in consequence have changed the nature of their lives. The situation of women today is the outcome of history.

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Women and Earlier Societies

Before considering women today, a review of the past will show that the lives of women are directly related to how the available resources are organised.

The earliest form of society was based on hunting and gathering for food, such as has been reported to be the way of life of a primitive tribe recently discovered in the Amazon forests. In this society men hunt the larger animals, the women and children gather smaller animals and plants. This division of labour reflects physical attributes, the strength of men being necessary for the hunt; the rearing ansd nurturing of children keeping women near the home base to prepare food and make clothes. This division is not one of inequality, but actually a division of responsibility.

The development of the domestication of animals and settled agriculture through the use of the plough and other tools, fertilisation and irrigation made the sexual division of labour even more rigid. As the food supply became more assured, because the hostility of the environment was being overcome, the population increased.

The increased population and demand for resources often lead to tribal conflict and war. In time prisoners were taken in wars to become slaves, and many female slaves became concubines. Slaves and concubines were one of the earliest forms of property. It is the establishment of the institution of private property that marks the establishment of class based society. Further, the subjugation of women did not come about to any great extent until the ownership of property became significant. With the development of property based society, instituted on a governmental basis, exchange, trade and law developed, as did divorce law.

In the earlier slave civilisations, Babylonia and Egypt, the position of women has been said to be quite good. This was probably due to being closer in time to the more egalitarian primative society. It was undoubtedly true of upper class women, but for lower class womwn, and slaves, it was a life of deprivation and hardship, working on the land or as domestic servants.

As in all property based societies, the situation for women varies according to which class a woman is in. In medieval society, women in an upper class, eg the aristocracy, were undoubtedly in a better situation than men and women in a lower class, eg a serf. the church and the aristocracy combined to establish the idea of women's inferiority. Upper class women were inferior to men of the same class because of the men's holdings in land. Upper class marriage was a feudal arrangement - to establish an increase of power through the holding of land. Nevertheles, a woman holding land was a person of importance: she could make contracts, write a will, sue or be sued. When she became a wife her land passed to her husband, and by canon law, if she were disobedient, her husband could "correct" her by force.

Lower class women were part of the general labour force on the land, working to sustain the church and aristocracy. In the towns, if married, they provided a wage for the family, on their own and single they had to earn a living. Many were assistants to their craftsman husband or father. On their own account they worked in spinning (hence spinster), brewing and baking. Surplus women in the upper class went into the nunneries; in the lower classes they experienced hard labouring work on the land or were cheap labour in the towns. The exploitation of cheap child labour was not an invention od capitalism and the industrial revolution.

Working women on the land had greater equality with men of their own class than other women within the class. But it was an equality shared with the men who had a life of virtually nothing but hard work. They had the possibility of marriage to a serf or in the later times to a peasant, bringing almost no change.

There is considerable evidence that from Saxon times to the early years of capitalism - into the 18th and 19th centuries, the position of women in society was considerably eroded. For the lower class women, hard work on the land was giving way to a life of wage slavery in the factories and down the pits. it was work for long hours, in foul, insanitary, and often dangerous conditions. Workers on the land generally were being forced off and into the cities to seek whatever employment was available. The formation of the working class was in process and this included women.

There is some evidence that up to the 19th century, there was no improvement in the position of women, when they are considered in relation to their own menfolk and the men and women of the capitalist class.

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Developments Within Capitalism

In 1842 work in the mines underground for boys under 10 years of age and women was forbidden by law. In the latter part of the century the Factory Act regulations slowly improved the working conditions for men, women and children. It must be remembered that although laws were passed, it took years for them to be seriously enforced, and only then because it was recognised that laws like the Factories Acts were in the general interest of the capitalist class. The upper class women remained subservient to her husband - a position buttressed by law until later in the century. The Married Women's Property Act in 1882 granted women rights to property secured before and after marriage . From then onwards technological developments and such events as the two world wars have widened the opportunities open to women, and so broadened the lives of women. But it has not meant freedom.

Prior to World War I, domestic service and factory work were the main occupations open to women. After the war, even though thousands of men did not return, the high unemployment meant a retreat for women from many occupations. World War II brought women into the factories again and into the military forces. Since this war, the outstanding feature has been the increase in office work and in the service industries. together with this development has been the increasing number of women entering the universities and the professions.

Capitalism exploits the working class regardless of sex. A woman who does equal work with a man must on average, require the same amount of the necessities of life. it does not follow however that the employer will pay her a wage that will make such a provision.

The growth of mechanical power has widened the work opportunities for women. The result is that women are taking positions that capitalism assigns for them. Capitalism has made it necessary for women to take their place as part of the industrial army. That and economic necessity has driven women out of the home and into the workshop with the consequent reaction on the wage status of men. Further it has been the inability of women to find employment at wages sufficient to keep them and their children, that has driven many of them into prostitution.

This position of inequality and discrimination has led women to establish organisations specifically designed to remedy their situation. Such organisations inevitably turn out to be reformist.

Getting the vote, once claimed as the panacea for women's woes, was not the remedy - as SPGB pointed out at the time. The Suffragettes movement was a capitalist movement of propertied women seeking the franchise. They were opposed by SPGB at the time. During World War I the Suffragettes suspended their activity and became a strike breaking organisation and a recruiting sergeant for the armed forces, as well as handing out white feathers to those not in uniform. They did not achieve the franchise, which was extended to women over 30 in 1918. Women's reform movements over the years have achieved very little, being almost totally dependant on the women's sections within the major capitalist political parties.

Suggestions that women in power would solve the world's problems have many times been shown to be false. Women leaders of capitalism have no more idea of how to control the economic and political forces of capitalism than have the men.

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Reforms, Women's Liberation & SPGB

SPGB opposition to all reform movements arises from our hostility to all parties of capitalism; Tory, Labour, Liberal, Democrat, Communist etc. These parties exist to administer capitalism and seek working class electoral support on the basis of an endless variety of programmes of reforms. All reform programmes have the problems of capitalism in mind and their purpose is to make capitalism run more smoothly and efficiently but always in the interests of the capitalists. Capitalism, during the normal course of its operations, constantly throws up the problems which give rise to the need for reforms. The SOLE object of SPGB is to abolish capitalism and establish Socialism, and all our political activity is exclusively devoted to that end.

It is claimed that because some reforms are beneficial to sections of the working class, we have a duty to support them. This misses the whole point of our attitude to reform measures. WE DO NOT SUPPORT GOOD REFORMS, NOR OPPOSE BAD REFORMS. We are simply not in the business of advocating or opposing reforms, including constitutional reforms. Political support for reforms is in direct conflict with our sole aim of Socialism.

It is also claimed that women's liberation organisations are in a special category because they deal specifically with women's problems, and that they are not political. This is naive. Their objectives must, in the final analysis, be achieved by the lobbying of the main political parties - by political action which is directly opposed to Socialism. Since the 1970's the women's Liberation movement has had a variety of aims. It has argued that improved contraception means that women no longer need be tied to family commitments, and that the traditional dominant decision making role of the male must go. It has argued and demonstrated for equal pay, equal education, equal job opportunities, free contraception, abortion on demand, free community controlled child care, financial and legal independence for all women, freedom from violence and sexual coercion, and from all things which prolong male dominance. These are hardly earthshaking proposals. Their achievements have been small and like all reforms are open to being watered down or reversed at some stage in the future.

By making the absurd claim that women's oppression is due to male domination, those in favour of women's liberation are dividing and confusing the working class. See for example the SOCIALIST STANDARD article "The Beauty Myth", July 1993, page 100, the journal of the Clapham based so called Socialist Party. This organisation is united in its support for women's liberation organisations. In the above article the following appeared:
"Like the Trade Union movement the feminist movements of this century have been useful in fighting for improved conditions within the framework of capitalism".

Obviously the editors of the SOCIALIST STANDARD do not know the difference between trade union action which is an aspect of the class struggle and a political reform movement which cannot struggle at all, and is dependant on the goodwill of the capitalists. No reform measures can be introduced against the united will of the capitalists. Trade unions can enforce demands for higher wages, better conditions etc against the united will of the capitalists by the threat of strike action, if the conditions are favourable. Much of the improvement of the workers' standards of living over the past 100 years or so has been due to trade union action. To equate the puny achievements of the many feminist movements this century with the achievements of the trade unions is to show an ignorance of reality.

SPGB has not, and does not support women's liberation organisations. Despite the theorising, they turn out to be no different from all other movements which choose to put immediate demands before the socialist aims of a revolutionary change of the social system. The class division in capitalist society cuts across all differences of nationality, race and sex. The emancipation of women can only come together with the emancipation of their class through the realisation of Socialism, which will emancipate:
"all mankind without distinction of race or sex" (SPGB Principles, No 4)

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SOCIALISM FOR EMANCIPATION

Within capitalism the problem common to both sexes is that of getting a living, but a living within capitalism is not emancipation. The vast majority of women and men, including non-employed housewives and pensioners etc belong to the working class. It is membership of this class which places limitations on the personal lives of both sexes. The logical solution is for one working class organisation having Socialism as its sole object.

Despite the suffering and discontent caused by the rapid expansion of capitalism, it is precisely this system which makes the emancipation of women feasible, since it has given women a role in social production outside of the home. from the start SPGB recognised the problem that class divided capitalism could not be run in the interests of both the capitalist class and the working class, as their economic interests are diametrically opposed. We argue that it is therefor necessary to transform capitalism into a new society wherein all would be social equals: equal in having their needs met and equal in security without distinction of race or sex. Unlike capitalism, which runs in an essentially anti-social way, Socialism would be free from war and economic rivalry. Common ownership (not state ownership) and democratic control of the means of production and distribution will mean the end of economic exploitation and social classes. Men and women will be free to arrange their personal lives according to their individual choice, whatever form the family takes.

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WOMEN WITHIN MODERN CAPITALISM

That women are in a position of subjection goes without saying. But they are not in a subjection to men but to class society. Men and women of the working class are both in subjection to capital. Today as many women are in employment as men. but they tend to be in part time and lower paid jobs. Further, it is not easy for women to ascend the employment ladder to better, higher paid jobs. Even doing the same job as a man they may not get the same pay. Job definitions can be a legal get out; men are "chefs" and women are "cooks". The equality that both men and women share is that of being wage slaves.

Inequality and discrimination (not just sexual discrimination) will remain for the working class for as long as capitalism continues. The working class will continue to be exploited and suffer as victims of the capitalist class which owns the means of life - the land, the factories, mines, transport facilities, communications, media etc. exploitation being the expropriation of the workers' unpaid labour.

Like other reformist movements, wishing by legislation to change the way capitalism operates, the well meaning people who seek equal pay and opportunities for women, disregard the fact that the aim of the employer, whether private or state organisation, is to make a profit. Legal enforcement of higher wages for women, as happens with minimum wage legislation generally, decreases the attraction to the employer of having paid women on the payroll. As has happened in the past, at a time of heavy unemployment, especially in minimum wage industries, there will be widespread breaches of the law by employers that will be accepted by workers, including women, rather than lose their jobs.

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BIOLOGY, LOVE & THE FAMILY

Before class society there was no need, no reason, to treat one sex as inferior - there being no owners or non-owners of property - and so no competition. From the inception of class society, women have suffered discrimination. The home of the Roman patrician, the feudal baron, and the capitalist, all contained elements of male domination.

Today marriage and the family, for the working class, are to the extent that they survive, mere legal devices to protect property rights. The cost of broken marriages and single parent families is increasing the burden for the capitalist state. It is a trend which the capitalists are certain to resist by trying to force individual parents to make provision for their offspring and unemployed "spouses". To expect love to flourish under capitalism, based on greed and hatred is akin to looking for figs on thistles.

Women's environment, particularly in childhood, is the cause of inferiority where it exists. From their earliest years they are taught that women are inferior in position, and take it for granted that this is normal. This brings us to the so called sex inequality.

In a biological sense men and women are equal, and the one is the complement of the other. There is nothing mystical about the differences between the sexes. each is specialised for its own task: that of producing the two kinds of sexual cells. The probable only real mental differences between men and women are the instincts directly concerned with sexual intercourse and the care of children. To the biologist, there is no suggestion of inferiority or superiority in the physical attributes of both sexes. They merely express the specialisation which accompanies sex in all types of animal.

We have seen that the advance of capitalism and economic necessity have driven women out of the home and into the labour market. When working class men and women recognise that their battle is one and the same, we shall be much nearer to a realisation of the co-operative commonwealth that socialists desire. There is no gender problem. There is a problem, but it is a social problem. Similarities between the sexes are far greater than the differences. Both ahve the same capacity for getting upset and hurt, both need companionship, security and affection. They both need each other as man and woman.

Today some women are disgusted by the constant blatant advertisements, which display female bodies in order to sell products. But they should recognise that the attitude which promotes this, the acceptance and promotion of capitalism's inherent commercialism, is no different from that attitude which prepares young girls to take an interest in clothes and make-up from an early age so as to eventually be able to trade their attractiveness for economic security.

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SPGB HISTORICAL ATTITUDE

The fact that SPGB Principles, drawn up at its formation in 1904, call for the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex speaks for itself. Since its foundation the Party has always recognised that:
"The whole history of women in class society has been and continues to be a history of special discrimination, of attitudes based on male superiority. But these attitudes are a product of class society and are not due to something in the male character. They did not exist among primitives in tribal communal society and they cannot exist under world socialism"
(WESTERN SOCIALIST, Volume 41, No 4, 1974)

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THE FUTURE

Whilst SPGB can give no blueprint of what exactly Socialism will be like, we can say that it will abolish the major social problems thrown up by capitalism; unemployment, insecurity, war, poverty etc. and that the social relations will be far more harmonious than those existing today. With the economic foundations of society free from the trammels of property and economic insecurity, the ground is cleared for new more amicable relations between people, including sexual relations. Unlike the Clapham based Socialist Party who brush aside the work of Engels and L H Morgan as being outdated, SPGB acknowledges the invaluable work carried out by them in the field of the family, private property and the formation of the state. Their work shows the development of society through its various stages up to the capitalist era, including the position of women in society. We end our contribution by quoting from both Engels and Morgan. Of sexual relations after the end of capitalism, Engels has this to say:
"What we may anticipate about the adjustment of sexual relations after the impending downfall of capitalist production is mainly of a negative nature, and mostly confined to elements that will disappear. But what will be added? That will be decide after a new generation has come to maturity: a race of men who never in their lives have had occasion for buying with money or other economic means of power the surrender of a woman; a race of women who have never had any occasion for surrendering to any man for any other reason but love, or for refusing to surrender to their lover from fear of economic consequences. Once such people are in the world, they will not give a moment's thought to what we today believe should be their course. They will follow their own practice and fashion their own public opinion, about the individual practice of every person - only this and nothing more"
(THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY & THE STATE, F Engels, Chapter 2, page 100 Kerr Edition)

And what can be said about the future of the family?
".. it must advance as society advances, and change as society changes, even as it has done in the past. It is the creature of the social system, and will reflect its culture. As the monogamian family has improved freatly since the commencement of civilization, and very sensibly in modern times, it is at least supposable that it is capable of still furhter improvement, until the equality of the sexes is attained. Should the monogamian family in the distant future fail to answer the requirements of society, assuming the continuous progress of civilization, it is impossible to predict the nature of its successor"
(ANCIENT SOCIETY, Lewis H Morgan, page 499, Kerr edition)

Finally we cannot emphasise too strongly that women have an equal opportunity with men to work for Socialism, and that all contributions are welcomed from both sexes. When a majority of the working class decides that it wishes to establish Socialism, it will take conscious political action to get socialist delegates elacted to Parliament in order to get control of the machinery of government, to dispossess the capitalist clas of their property and establish common ownership and democratic control as the bais of the new society. To this end we welcome both men and women!

WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE, YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR CHAINS, YOU HAVE A WORLD TO WIN.

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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO FEMINISM

In republishing our pamphlet WOMEN AND SOCIALISM we are taking the opportunity to ask the important question: "whatever happened to feminism?" This is not an academic question but a political one. For many decades feminists told Socialists that they could accomodate women's demands within capitalism. The continued insecurity of employment, home life and other social problems facing working class women show this not to be the case.

During the 19th century Socialists had begun to pay interest to the question of women in capitalist society and in different social systems throughout human history. In 1879 August Bebel published his book WOMEN IN THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE. This was followed by Engel's THE ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY, PRIVATE PROPERTY AND THE STATE in 1884. And in 1886, Eleanor Marx-Aveling and Edward Aveling published their essay THE WOMAN QUESTION. All three books were published at a time when female suffragette groups were agitating for the vote, particularly in Britain and the US.

Consequently, since then, there have always been two political alternatives facing working class women under capitalism: feminism or revolutionary socialism. The first, advocated by feminists, believes that the problems facing women can be achieved through social reforms. The second, argued by Socialists, believes that the problems facing women can only be resolved within the framework of common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

Although the origins of feminism can be traced back to the 18th century, for example, Mary Wollstonecraft's VINDICATION OF THE RIGHTS OF WOMEN (1792), organised political activity did not occur until the struggle for women's votes in the 19th century. The various strands of the female suffrage movement came together in 1897, with the establishment of the National Union of Suffrage Societies. A more confrontational and direct action politics occurred in 1903, with close links to the Independent Labour Party.

A year later, in 1904, SPGB was established with a singular aim, recognising in its fourth principle:
"That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex"

In the decades prior to the First World War, SPGB refused any support to the suffrage campaign on the grounds that what the working class needed was Socialism, not votes. Enough votes existed to establish Socialism but were being used to retain capitalism. A request for financial help from Emmeline Pethick Lawrence (SOCIALIST STANDARD, April, 1906) met with the reply that class-consciousness must come first: "Of what use is the vote when the working class use it agianst their own class interests". Later SPGB remarked "Sex equality could not be the fruit of Suffragette humbug, it could come only through economic equality - and economic equality is impossible except through Socialism" (SOCIALIST STANDARD, June, 1908).

Contemporary feminism came out of the student politics of the late 1960's and early 1970's around the question of social reforms like abortion, equal pay, state welfare for mothers and equal education. The first national women's conference, held at Ruskin College, Oxford in February-March 1970, and attended largely by academics, students and journalists, had four demands. These were equal pay, equal education and opportunities, 24-hour nurseries, fre contraception and abortion on demand.

Instead of recognising the class struggle as the primary agent of change in society, feminists believed that there was a gender struggle between men and women. Men held and exercised social power and women did not. Change the power relationship between men and women, so feminists thought, and you would have a more equitable society.

In debates with feminists SPGB pointed out that workers accomodatong themselves within capitalism did not further their own class interests. Capitalism could not be reformed to run in the interest of all society. To solve social problems meant the workers as a whole, consciously and politically, abolishing class relations and class power. To solve social problems facing workers you first had to establish socialism.

Feminists rejected the political reality of the class struggle. They believed women's problems could be addressed and resolved within capitalism largely because they had a totally ill-conceived and naive understanding of the profit system.

To struggle for equal pay and opportunities ignores the fact that the aim of the employer, whether private or state, is to make a profit. Legal enforcement of higher wages for women (as happens with minimum wage enforcement generally) decreases the low-pay attraction to the capitalist of employment women. Class also limits access to education. Working class male children do not get the same educational opportunities as female children from the capitalist class just as females of working class parents do not get the same educational opportunities as male children of capitalists. The failure of feminist politics derives from its failure to understand the class nature of capitalism and the primary class relationship of private property ownership.

SPGB does not support feminist groups. They are no different from other reform movements who place immediate demands before the Socialist aim of abolishing capitalism. It would be true to say that even if all the demands for equal and political rights were achieved it would not mean the freedom of women, or anything near it. The majority of women, like the majority of men, belong to the wage and salary earning class, and this class cannot realise their true potential so long as the means of production and what workers produce remain the property of the capitalists.

Contrary to political opportunists, there can be no non-political reform movement. The aims of any reformist organisation can only be transmitted through capitalist parties, like the Labour Party, and through government legislation like the Sex Discrimination Act. And as with all reforms they will be framed within the interests of the capitalist class since it is this class that, ultimately, has to pay for these measures through taxation.

Women workers like their male counterparts are still exploited in the productive process, still have unmet needs and still exist in the precarious world of employment. Globally millions of women live in poverty, have little or no childcare facilities and face high infant mortality rates. Millions of women are excluded from basic education.

The question asked by Socialists is. In the class struggle, what have feminists achieved for working class women over the last century or so? The answer is very little. Their position in class society remains the same. In the more developed capitalist countries being a mother and having to work is extrememly stressful. A single mother on benefits is living a hard, often lonely life. If Socialism had been established by now none of these problems would exist.

This does not mean Socialists are unaware that individual women have real problems dealing with individual men or groups of men. But working class women share the same problems as their male counterparts. The vast majority of women and men, including non-employed housewives and pensioners, belong to the working class. It is membership of this class that places limitations on the personal life of both sexes. The logical solution is for one working class organisation having Socialism as its sole objective.

Socialists have a deeper understanding of capitalism. the problems faced by both male and female workers derive from their class position. As a class they face a capitalist class, politically, over the ownership and control of the means of production. Feminists were quiescent about private property relationships because it would have meant criticism of female capitalists and the class power they possessed and used against the working class as a whole.

The main political parties have to run capitalism and that means framing policy within the limits of profit, competition and the interests of capitalists. Reforms can be enacted but not necessarily enforced. Social reforms now have the aim of saving money under the pressure of foreign competition. It was noticeable how many former feminists, now Labour MP's and government ministers, voted to reduce money going to single mothers.

Socialists recognise that the problem faced by working class women is part and parcel of the problem facing the working class as a whole. Capitalism denies real social needs, it distorts human relationships to exchange relationships and it keeps an entire class in wage slavery. In short, capitalism cannot meet the needs of all society. feminism has no future but Socialism has.

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Acknowledgement and Memorial

The author of this pamphlet, ken Knight, died on Wednesday 5th November 1997: he wrote the Preface to the Second Reprint of this pamphlet just prior to his death. He had been a member of SPGB for nearly 50 years, and was a regular contributor to the SOCIALIST STANDARD and latterly to our Journal - SOCIALIST STUDIES. In 1991 when we insisted on using the Party's name - SPGB, he and other comrades were summarily expelled from the organisation that had become the Socialist Party.

His overall contribution to the Socialist cause covered many aspects - writing and speaking and prior to his expulsion he undertook many organisational tasks at the Clapham HQ. He was always willing to deal with enquiries from here and abroad and many will have received detailed replies to their questions about the Party and the fundamentals of our case. He als took charge of our Audio Tapes Library and sent out many copies from our list of nearly 100.

His place in the movement will not be easy to fill.

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