Why socialist feminism? One answer is that reforming capitalism so that it is “kinder and gentler” is a dead end. Reforms are important for survival but they are always undermined or reversed. Never-ending attacks on reproductive rights and affirmative action and endless imperialist wars are just a few examples of the limits of reformism. Social justice advocates end up fighting the same battles over and over again instead of expanding democratic rights for excluded groups or preventing the next war.
Another answer is because you can’t have one without the other. Equality for women cannot be achieved under capitalism while socialism cannot be attained without the participation and leadership of working and poor women in the struggle to win it. Socialist feminists believe that the only way to win the fight for women’s rights is to connect it up with the larger global campaign for human liberation in all its forms.
Women are the most oppressed of every oppressed group. No one needs revolutionary transformation of society worse than they do and no other group has the capacity to unite the oppressed in a mighty, working class movement that addresses all the injustices suffered by the dispossessed under capitalism: racism, poverty, homophobia, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, ageism, and war.
The profit system survives on women’s unpaid labor in the home and low-waged labor in market place. Their inequality is solidified like concrete in a perverse arrangement where owners and employers profit off of women’s second-class status and misery. This is a radicalizing expereince and accounts for the tremendous role women play, particularly women of color and indigenous women, as leaders in the struggle for revolutionary change.
Both men and women have a stake in changing their unequal relationship. The subjugation of females lays the basis for ruling class exploitation of poor and workingclass males of all races, nationalities, abilities and sexual orientations. The profit system, and the oppression of women which keep it afloat, must be overthrown for women, children and men to be free of economic insecurity and discrimination. Working class men who are feminists know that when they fight for women’s rights, they are making a stand for all the exploited–including themselves!
Socialist feminism would turn capitalism and the subjugation of women and all other underdogs upside down. First, because socialism replaces the current system of wealth for a few with a system that can meet the human needs of the majority. Secondly, because the fight for women’s equality, with the lowest paid and most oppressed in the leadership, would guarantee everyone wins, because when those at the bottom of the economic ladder rise up, everyone moves up with them.
To the diehards that say capitalism and patriarchy will live forever, we point to the fact that humans have lived far longer in communal societies where men and women shared the role of leaders and where their different economic and social roles were both valued.
Frederick Engels set forth the theoretical basis for modern socialist feminism in his book Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State. He explains that a communal, matriarchal social system preceded the rise of private property, class society, patriarchy, slavery and the state. He pointed to the primary role women played in the economic, social, cultural and political life of these communal societies and the egalitarian relationships that characterized them.
As a result of the overthrow of the matriarchy and the rise of private property and capitalism, women now bear the brunt of the poverty, suffering, deprivation, wars and environmental devastation the profit system creates.
As revolutionary socialist feminists we seek to free men and women of all forms of oppression and restore the egalitarianism of the past. We envision a highly technologically advanced socialist society where those who create wealth with their daily labor also make the decisions about what it should be used for, where democracy means workers’ control of the state and the economy, where protecting the planet is first priority, where production of goods is for human needs and where internationalism is practiced among all peoples.
Another socialist world is possible!
A socialist U.S. is absolutely necessary for human survival!