Socialist Feminism Today

March 2021: Thousands of women joined rallies in Australia to demand justice for sexual assault victims. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

By Ana Cavalcante

In recent years, it is not rare to find people divided between the camps of ‘we are all feminists’ and ‘this movement has gone too far’. These positions reproduce past divisions and do not really assist us in understanding what the phenomenon in front of us is and what is necessary to move forward.

It is true that the women’s movement is very diverse with sometimes irreconcilable differences between liberal feminists, socialist feminists, women liberationists and so forth; it is also true that women are still oppressed and subjugated in today’s society and in need of self-organising spaces to combat this.

Women are still the majority of people victimised by domestic and family violence, sexual violence, displacement and poverty. The force of violence and oppression and their impact on women will depend on a number of other factors such as age, social class and race, but it does not erase the reality of women being exploited and oppressed in specific ways and as women.

Under capitalism, this occurs not only through production, but also through the labour involved in reproduction – having children and delivering free labour as carers to children, the elderly and others.

Capitalism was built using the structures of patriarchy. While potentially well intentioned, women’s movements that fail to acknowledge the structural connection between patriarchy and the class oppression of women (and men) will fail to provide a meaningful guide to social transformation. Simultaneously, Marxist outlooks that refuse to engage in women’s organising are underestimating the strength of half the human population and minimising the importance of their struggle.

Debates regarding the origins of women’s oppression and the best way to address this oppression are all 200 years old or more. Over 100 years ago however, the Russian Revolution started a process of socialist experiences that introduced not only a new production model (the socialist one), but also a new way of thinking about family structures and the place of women in building this new society.

The socialist experiences that followed only added to this body of knowledge on the importance of socialism and a Marxist analysis for women’s liberation, as well as the importance of women organising for not only their own struggle, but the victory of the working-class struggle.

In the early 20th century, Soviet women had access to housing, health care, financial independence, childcare and social services that their Western sisters would take decades to achieve. Even in the 21st century, most women can only dream of having these things one day.

In 2023, Australian women have no access to free universal childcare for their children, and many have no place to live due to an enormous rental crisis with no end in sight. Capitalism has had an extra century and still could not deliver freedom and dignity to women.

Socialist women organising is a necessity and a practice that succeeded elsewhere. It is time to adopt it here!

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