Workers Vanguard No. 954

12 March 2010


Socialism and Women’s Liberation

(Quote of the Week)

In Woman and Socialism, the first full-length Marxist study of women’s oppression, early German Marxist leader August Bebel stressed that the struggle for women’s emancipation is strategic to the fight for socialism. Women’s oppression is rooted in the institution of the family, a core element of class society that arose with the advent of private property, as Friedrich Engels would further develop in his work The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State (1884). As Bebel outlined, complete social equality can be realized only with the abolition of classes in a world socialist society.

For thousands of years human society has passed thru all phases of development, only to return to its starting point: communistic property and complete liberty and fraternity: but no longer only for the members of the gens, but for all human beings. That is what the great progress consists of. What bourgeois society has striven for in vain, in what it failed and was bound to fail,—to establish liberty, equality and fraternity for all,—will be realized by Socialism. Bourgeois society could merely advance the theory, but here, as in many other things, practice was contrary to the theories. Socialism will unite theory and practice.

But as mankind returns to the starting point of its development, it will do so on an infinitely higher level of civilization. If primitive society had common ownership in the gens and the clan, it was but in a coarse form and an undeveloped stage. The course of development that man has since undergone, has reduced common property to small and insignificant remnants, has shattered the gens and has finally atomized society; but in its various phases it has also greatly heightened the productive forces of society and the extensiveness of its demands; it has transformed the gentes and the tribes into nations, and has thereby again created a condition that is in glaring contradiction to the requirements of society. It is the task of the future to remove this contradiction by re-establishing the common ownership of property and the means of production on the broadest basis.

Society takes back what it has at one time possessed and has itself created, but it enables all to live in accordance with the newly created conditions of life on the highest level of civilization. In other words, it grants to all what under more primitive conditions has been the privilege of single individuals or classes. Now woman, too, is restored to the active position maintained by her in primitive society; only she no longer is mistress, but man’s equal….

The complete emancipation of woman, and her establishment of equal rights with man is one of the aims of our cultured development, whose realization no power on earth can prevent. But it can be accomplished only by means of a transformation that will abolish the rule of man over man, including the rule of the capitalist over the laborer. Then only can humanity attain its fullest development. The “golden age” of which men have been dreaming, and for which they have been yearning for thousands of years, will come at last. Class rule will forever be at an end, and with it the rule of man over woman.

—August Bebel, Woman and Socialism (1879)