By Aurora Women’s Club in Donetsk
International Women’s Day is being attacked from different angles. Streams of lies are pouring out about the “prostitute holiday,” the value of “gender” holidays in our marvelous, equal world, where they already “achieved everything long ago” is being called into question, calls are heard for the decommunization of March 8 and, with it, women’s rights.
In this struggle of progressive and reactionary tendencies, one cannot surrender positions. March 8 is a proletarian and revolutionary day. It is the day of working women, exploited by capital and crushed by patriarchal social relations.
The creators of Women’s Day were women workers who held demonstrations and rallies in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1910, in commemoration of the actions of working women, Clara Zetkin proposed celebrating Women’s Day. In the following years, women marched on that day, demanding equal rights and better working conditions. In 1913, Women’s Day was first held in Russia.
In 1917, the appearance of these workers, exhausted by the war and deprivation, in the streets of Petrograd, was the signal for the uprising of the proletariat and soldiers: “The first day of the revolution is Women’s Day, the day of the Women Workers’ International,” wrote Pravda.
It was a difficult struggle when women gained their freedom. No one served it on a silver platter. The workers themselves won their rights: on the barricades, on the fronts of the Civil War, eliminating illiteracy and joining in production …
And now Women’s Day is once again regaining its working-class and revolutionary character. Around the world, women are demanding an end to oppression once and for all. Against discrimination, assaults on reproductive rights, violence against women, neoliberal reforms and the very foundation of all oppression — against capitalism. Today, the struggle of women continues, demanding “bread and roses” — not only an equal salary, but also a decent human life.
Women’s rights must be considered in their specific historical and class circumstances. Torn from life, it turns the question of women’s rights into an empty abstraction. It becomes a struggle for the right of women to be exploiters on a par with men, to go to war in the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation, Ukraine’s war on the Donbass republics] or to serve in the right-wing battalions. But will this bring true liberation to most women? No. We need real emancipation, not just formal equalization.
We are oppressed as women. We are forced to sell our labor power in order to survive, and here we are exploited as workers. But in the workplace, we do not forget about our female “second-class” citizenship. Reminders about this are harassment from superiors, from colleagues and humiliating prejudices. By the way, on average in Russia, women earn nearly 30% less than men. And this is not some kind of anomaly of “wrong capitalism.” In the world’s most developed capitalist country — the United States — women are paid 20% less than men who perform the same job. In addition, there is gender segregation in the workplace: “traditionally” female professions are less prestigious and are lower paid than “traditionally” male ones.
Our situation, the situation of women of Donbass, is complicated by the war and economic blockade. We live in anxiety and are unsure about the future. Some have lost loved ones, some have lost their homes and now drift between rented apartments. Some are forced to stay where shells explode every day. We have to face Donbassophobia on the part of those who are waging this war against us. War causes dehumanization; it exacerbates all the contradictions of capitalism.
Caring for the family becomes an even heavier burden on women’s shoulders. We need to think about how to save money, how to feed everyone cheaply and nutritiously, how to provide our family with clothes and necessary medicines. But even in “normal” conditions, housework and caring for children and the elderly lengthen the working day. The whole society, the entire production system, depends on this work — on the reproduction of the labor force. But she, locked in the walls of a separate household, is usually not noticed. This is so ingrained in public consciousness that even some “critical” leftists ridicule the very possibility of discussing domestic work as an element of the oppression of women. Maybe 2-4 hours a day, spent on cooking, cleaning and caring for children and the elderly, is “a mere trifle” after an 8-hour working day? The International Labor Organization recognizes that women spend three times more time on unpaid housework than men. This is equivalent to 201 working days a year, and such a load leads to chronic fatigue, overwork, insomnia and anxiety.
Women in the Donbass are becoming even more vulnerable and defenseless against the most cruel forms of exploitation — prostitution, surrogate motherhood and human trafficking. There are announcements everywhere about “working in a massage parlor,” “online work for girls under 21” or calls “to help a childless European couple.” We do not know how many have been pushed by need into such a desperate step as selling their bodies.
Many women are driven by poverty to earn money where they become a tidbit for employers who want to get as much as possible and pay as little as possible.
We don’t have accurate statistics on violence, both sexual and domestic, but it is obvious that this problem hits the most vulnerable hard. And even in the countries of “developed capitalism” it is unlikely that they will be able to collect accurate data on domestic or sexual violence. Victims are often silent for fear of public condemnation, and offenders go unpunished. The system itself ignores crimes of domestic and sexual violence. Even if the relevant laws are adopted, the investigation is reluctant, the courts and the public are lenient to criminals, even if their crimes are egregious and monstrous. Even traffickers and pimps often do not suffer any punishment, and victims not only do not receive justice and public support, but also minimal protection.
In times of crisis, women are particularly affected by male alcoholism. We understand the social roots of this problem — alienation, lack of cultural leisure and a minimum of prospects. But an alcoholic rarely remains alone with his problems — women, children and the elderly who depend on him suffer from his behavior.
We live in an era of neoliberal transformations against the working people. After the coup in Ukraine, they became even more rapid. Attacks on the rights of workers, precarization, lengthening the working day, the collapse of health care and education, the destruction of basic social guarantees — this is how neoliberalism is manifested everywhere. This form of capitalism unloads the system’s problems onto each woman individually.
Neoliberalism gives us the old forms of oppression in a new, more attractive wrapper. Liberals will insist that prostitution and pornography are the free choice of liberated women. But they will never say that the average age of involvement in prostitution is 14 years. And in this area, women are almost guaranteed to face violence, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries and drug abuse. We are told that spending a lot of money on makeup and beauty injections can be a “feminist” decision. Modern “equal rights” groups even advertise lipstick for 5,000 rubles among their resources and write about the benefits of Botox. But for a female worker, aesthetic service is turning into a “third shift.” Even in the workplace, “beauty” sometimes becomes a criterion of professional suitability. The patriarchal notion that a woman should look attractive and young at any age play into the hands of the beauty industry, which finds more and more flaws in the female body and invents more and more ways to get money out of our pockets.
Loud words about “free choice” sound especially mocking. Advertisers often leave us neither freedom nor choice. We have nowhere to run from domestic tyrants, nowhere to seek protection, we are forced to work for a pennies to feed our families.
We are told that women give birth only for themselves and no one owes anything to anyone. The state, they say, is not obliged to provide the population with nurseries [day care] and social benefits, and people should not give up a place in public transport to pregnant women and mothers with children. In this wondrous free world, man is a wolf to man.
The quality of education is falling, a free school seems like a beautiful fairy tale. Even if they don’t yet take money for the education itself, all associated costs and fees increase. Even some feminists are starting to talk about homeschooling as the choice of good mothers and a chance to raise children free from social prejudice. But such a choice increasingly enslaves women who already pay too high a price for the opportunity to be a mother. At the same time, the most conservative circles are systematically attacking the right to abortion, threatening to turn motherhood from voluntary to forced.
The devastation in education and healthcare, the attack on workers’ rights, the arbitrariness of the capitalists, who spit on all labor codes and declarations of human rights — all of this has hit women workers with a vengeance. It is women and girls who receive fewer resources in the face of any crisis — military, environmental, economic.
But the female world, like the male one, is divided into two camps: some enter the ruling class and can afford to abandon tedious housework, others prepare food for them and nurse their children; some start a business and fight any attempts to create a union, others get paid even less than their male counterparts, and are afraid of layoffs; some join the war, others live under fire for six years. A simple example: some Ukrainian feminists loudly support the Anti-Terrorist Operation, pouring Donbassophobic statements and at the same time declare that they represent “the interests of all women.” But by their own actions they themselves refute the slogan: “All women are sisters”; for them there are only problems for women close to them in class and spirit. For us, the problem is “white-bone feminism” [bourgeois feminism], which simply ignores our existence.
But we, women workers, are the majority. We are everywhere — in factories, agricultural enterprises, construction sites and housing offices, in schools and hospitals, in laboratories and universities. We are in every working family. We get up before everyone else to make breakfast, or we cook borscht exhausted after work. We care for the elderly and raise children. Without our labor, the world would stop. We must stand up for our interests — for the majority of women.
Decent wages, the socialization of domestic work, free and high-quality healthcare and education, affordable and comfortable housing, the full breadth of reproductive rights, a world without war, effective prevention of domestic and sexual violence, getting rid of patriarchal prejudice — that’s what we need.
The individualistic ideas of “starting with yourself” will not fundamentally solve any of women’s problems. Career growth, separatism from men and so on can make life easier for one individual woman, but all this will not lead to genuine emancipation. It is impossible to be free from patriarchy if the basis for the oppression of women and class society is maintained. You can arrange a cozy world of equality in your apartment, but if you go outside, the illusion will collapse. So the problem is not self-awareness, but the foundation of the system itself, which, despite all individual efforts, will continue like clockwork. Women all over the world understand that it is necessary to oppose the very system of patriarchal capitalism. Examples of this are women’s protests in Spain on March 8, and the protests of women in Latin America for reproductive rights and against macho violence.
The struggle against the foundations of the exploitative system of capitalism is an important part of women’s struggle. Private property reinforces oppression and allows it to be reproduced from generation to generation, despite equality on paper. Fighting for a better, communist future — without exploitation and oppression — is the duty of every conscious woman worker.
But this doesn’t mean that all communists should not fight for a better life for the woman worker. Some men in the left movement do not think about the reasons why so far few women join the communist struggle. To promise equality in the distant future and to ignore misogynistic sentiments in the modern movement is hypocrisy. To vehemently criticize bourgeois feminism and not to say a word about the true problems of women, or even to argue that these problems do not exist at all or they are insignificant — is also hypocrisy. We can’t currently provide public canteens and laundries, and establish free nursery schools and kindergartens. But each conscious man can share household chores with his wife and give her more time to read Marx and Kollontai, participate in circles and trade unions. He can explain to less conscious comrades the inadmissibility of sexism and listen to the demands of female workers.
If we do not talk about the women’s issue, then different kinds of liberals will end up with hegemony, which will further impose false consciousness. They will say that violence is an expression of masculine nature or some random defect that cannot be explained. The communists, on the other hand, shrug their shoulders and say that violence is an expression of economic relations. This, of course, is true. But this is not a very good prospect: to wait for possibly 100 years when your husband threatens your life and health now. We must explain this problem, support those who try to help women in distress, and not take the side of the abuser. The capitalists are doing everything possible to turn us into a divided mass, where all are each other’s enemies and competitors. But that’s no excuse for a domestic tyrant. Justifying workers who mock their wives and children splits the working class. And we need to both defend the gains of women’s emancipation and promote our agenda.
Each component of the women’s issue should be carefully studied, analyzed in detail. Unequal pay for equal work, discrimination in employment, the “maternity penalty,” harassment and sexual abuse, domestic violence, the “second shift” — we must develop a clear understanding of these problems, and not hide our heads in the sand, repeating about the unimportance of the issue and “distractions of the superstructure.”
“We must combine the revolutionary struggle against capitalism with revolutionary program and tactics in relation to all democratic demands: the republic, the militia, the choice of officials by the people, the equality of women, the self-determination of nations, etc.,” wrote Lenin.
Women’s education should be an important part of working-class agitation. This is not each one’s private affair, much less the struggle for minorities, which many “leftists” do not like so much.
This is a struggle for the liberation of at least half of the working class, the humanization of us all. As long as women are trapped in the grip of domestic labor, gender discrimination, and patriarchal prejudice, no man can completely free himself. We are half the world — half the working class. To give up half of the people in the struggle for the future means to give up and surrender in advance.
Today, more and more women and men in the left movement understand the importance of the women’s issue. And this poses the question: what can we do here and now, given that we are still few and our resources are limited?
– To study and develop theory: even now Russian collectives or individual Marxist feminists are engaged in this. But it is safe to say that now an advanced theory of Marxist feminism has not been developed. Many categories require reflection in accordance with modern realities.
– Carry out actions of solidarity and support, write materials and distribute them. We must respond promptly to current events and give our answer.
– Create Marxist circles and Marxist women’s societies: to educate women, consolidate their efforts, direct joint activities.
– Establish connections between left-wing women’s groups. New forms of communication allow us to communicate with comrades in the most remote corners. We urge our comrades not only to create chat rooms, but also to hold solidarity calls with friendly groups, discuss specific problems and build joint activities — to prepare events or actions, write articles or prepare other content, share experiences and learn from each other. Our strength is in solidarity.
– Study the problems of women workers and to listen to them.
– Develop methods of mass agitation. Get rid of “elitism” and be closer to working women. Conduct awareness campaigns for women. Organize women’s clubs — readings, film clubs. Support victims of violence and war.
The liberation of humanity is in the hands of the working class. If we destroy class exploitation but close our eyes to female oppression, it will mean that we have not achieved our goal.
Translated by Greg Butterfield