Marxism and Women’s Liberation

By Val Reynoso

Karl Marx was born in Germany in 1818 and was best known as a philosopher, journalist and revolutionary socialist. Marx studied law and obtained a PhD in Philosophy; however, he was unable to successfully find a job because he was too radical of a thinker, so he became involved in politics and social issues and pursued the field of journalism instead.

Frederick Engels was born in Germany in 1820 and was also a philosopher and journalist and founded Marxist theory together with Karl Marx. Engels was a businessman for the sake of his father but from 1842 to 1844 in England, he worked at night to influence communist ideas and study the workers of England.

Marx and Engels both lived during the revolutions of 1848 where German states threw off an authoritarian, quasi-feudal political system to replace it with a constitutional, representative form of government –which allowed them to directly participate in the revolution. In 1845 Marx wrote The German Ideology with Engels, which was a developing theory of history where forms of society arise corresponding to the state of development of human productive forces.

In 1848 Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto with Engels—which was their most widely read work. Marx and Engels believed that human rights should include women and workers because they argued that the position of women in society could be used as a measure of the development of society as a whole, the privatization of the means of production in a capitalist system is the foundation of socioeconomic and class inequities, and the worker under capitalism suffers from four types of alienated labor and exploitation from the bourgeoisie. Capitalism is a system in which means of production are privatized and held by corporations and the bourgeoisie and is founded on the idea of the free market—laissez-faire—and privatized personal gain. The bourgeoisie capitalize off of the labor of the proletariat.

Socialism is worker control of the means of production and is the elimination of capitalist class interests. Communism is a political ideology in which all property that would be privatized under capitalism is publicly owned/communally owned, a classless society in which people are paid and work according to their needs and abilities.

Moreover, Marx and Engels believed that women and children were being used as tools for more capital for the bourgeoisie. In Engels’ The Origin on the Family, Private property, and the State, he argued that the subordination of women is a product of social relations as opposed to biological disposition and that efforts made by men to achieve demands for control of women’s labor and sexual faculties have become institutionalized in the nuclear family.

Engels stated that the shift from feudalism to private ownership of land has a great impact on the status of women, given that women who do not own land nor means of production are enslaved and obligated to work for owners of land to live in a system founded on private ownership.

Capitalism has separated private and public spheres and has provided disproportionate access to waged labor to men. The gender oppression of women is directly related to class oppression given that the institutional relationship between men and women is comparable to that of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat; the former profits off of and benefits from the systemic oppression of the latter under capitalism and patriarchy.

In Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx argued that the societal position of women could be used to indicate the development of society as a whole. He stated that new social relations based on individuals seeing each other as valuable in themselves, as opposed to only worth what one individual can provide to another, would have to be formed in order for society to transcend from its capitalist form.

Women—and especially nonwhite women—would be particularly important in said regard given that they are a marginalized group in virtually all societies and men, women and other genders would have to reach a point where people are valued for who they are as opposed to categories such as gender.

In Marx’s Capital, women and children are rendered valuable under capitalism since they can be pressure and obliged to work for less—which then results in more capital gain for the upper class. Proceeding towards communism would allow for women and nonmen to become true equals to men.

The proletariat has to seize the means of production in order to dismantle capitalism and end the bourgeoisie exploitation of the proletariat. Socialism is inevitable and communism is the end product and has to occur on a world-wide scale.

Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto inspired European workers and communists throughout Asia, Latin America and Africa as well. The classless society that would exist under communism is a condition under which women and the proletariat would regain the human rights stripped from them under capitalism. Both groups would receive equal pay and better treatment in the workplace; they would be societally regarded more so as individuals than as their identities seen as marginalized.

Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto and Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts depict that the worker under capitalism suffers alienated labor and exploitation from the bourgeoisie. In Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts, Marx argued that the worker under capitalism suffered from four types of alienated labor: alienation from the product, work is experienced as torment, alienation from their own humanity as humans produce blindly not in accordance with their truly human powers, and alienation from other people, where relation of exchange replaces satisfaction of mutual need.

Marx believed that the economics of the bourgeoisie are derived from an analysis of the concept of alienation and that people reinforce their own structures of oppression, hence they must have an urge to move beyond said condition and take control of their destiny.

The Communist Manifesto portrayed the right to private property, civil and political rights as egotistical and made what they considered to be a “bad bourgeoisie democracy.” Marx and Engels stated that communists everywhere supported all revolutionary movements against the existing social and political order, that they can obtain their liberation only by a forcible overthrow of all contemporary social conditions, and that the proletarians had nothing to lose but their metaphorical chains.

Communism is inclusive of people of all identities and backgrounds and advocates particularly for the liberation of marginalized persons under capitalism.

Val Reynoso is a Politics and Human Rights undergrad, journalist and Marxist-Leninist activist.

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