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Gen­der oppres­sion has his­to­ri­cally been exten­si­vely stu­died from diver­se points of view. This has made way for deba­tes on the mat­ter that have deve­lo­ped dif­fe­rent wor­king hypothe­ses over time, addres­sing issues ran­ging from the ori­gin of said oppres­sion to the role it plays or the inter­ests it ser­ves. The­se the­ses have clearly led to various, often oppo­sing, poli­ti­cal pro­po­sals that attempt to deal with the mat­ter from their point of view.

As a con­tri­bu­tion to the his­tory of the­se deba­tes, last February we had the oppor­tu­nity to par­ti­ci­pa­te in a con­ver­sa­tion with Isa­bel Benitez1, orga­ni­zed by the stu­dent move­ment for the 2020 edi­tion of the “Herri Uni­ber­tsi­ta­tea” (Uni­ver­sity of the Peo­ple). The round table dis­cus­sion gene­ra­ted a great inter­est due to its abi­lity to address the com­ple­xity and inte­grity of the mat­ter at hand, which we attem­pted to tac­kle from a clear class pers­pec­ti­ve. The follo­wing analy­sis seeks to sum­ma­ri­ze the ideas and con­clu­sions that the mee­ting gave us the oppor­tu­nity to sha­re and reflect on. 

The role of gen­der oppres­sion in the capi­ta­list domination 

It is a vital task to figu­re out which have been the his­to­ri­cal pro­ces­ses that have led cer­tain human socie­ties to having dyna­mics of domi­na­tion based on the sexes. Ascer­tai­ning the his­to­ri­cal pro­cess of the trans­for­ma­tion of the sexual divi­sion of labour in the transition from feu­da­lism to capi­ta­lism helps us inves­ti­ga­te the fun­ctions it currently ful­fills. This pro­cess, which ope­ra­tes within an even broa­der cour­se of expro­pria­tion of com­mu­nal goods, in order to crea­te a mar­ket com­pri­sed of free wor­kers, does not dis­re­gard that women’s repro­duc­ti­ve capa­city is a key fac­tor in such a pro­cess. The con­trol over bio­lo­gi­cal repro­duc­tion pla­ces wor­king class women in a posi­tion in which they are depri­ved of the con­trol over their own bodies, redu­ced to the field of repro­duc­tion. Bio­lo­gi­cal repro­duc­tion goes from being a natu­ral fun­ction to being a socio­cul­tu­ral pro­cess deter­mi­ned by the capi­tal, accor­ding to its need for labour power. It pro­vi­des dif­fe­rent mecha­nisms for this objec­ti­ve, from which we can empha­si­ze the denial of women’s non-repro­duc­ti­ve sexua­lity and plea­su­re. In other words, the plea­su­re not sub­jec­ted to neither a pro­cess that is not repro­duc­ti­ve nor com­mer­cial (pros­ti­tu­tion, pornography).

Like­wi­se, the selec­ti­ve inte­gra­tion in the labour mar­ket, as a pres­su­re mecha­nism for a wage drop, with regard to the pre­viously men­tio­ned points, rein­for­ces the fact that wage-ear­ning women are second rate pro­le­ta­riat, trap­ped bet­ween the logic of non-com­mer­cial domes­tic labour and waged labour. The sexual divi­sion of labour legi­ti­ma­tes that wor­king women are hired in under­va­lued jobs, and that they recei­ve a lower wage. It is neces­sary to speak about the con­cen­tra­tion of mainly femi­ni­ne labour for­ce in sec­tors of non-qua­li­fied jobs, such as health ser­vi­ces and care, that earn the lowest sala­ries in the who­le ran­ge of ave­ra­ge wages of occu­pa­tions. To this we have to add that part-time employ­ment is beco­ming one of the most gene­ra­li­zed cha­rac­te­ris­tics in wor­king women’s labour con­di­tions, its inco­me being 30% less than full-time employ­ment. In the same way the barriers in the labour mar­ket and the spe­ci­fic occu­pa­tio­nal hazards asso­cia­ted to women’s “social posi­tion” should be noted: cau­sed by the social com­po­si­tion of gen­der (harass­ment at work), the notion of being a sexual com­mo­dity (sexual harass­ment) and also the vision surroun­ding care (the con­di­tion of being a mother as an entry barrier or the pro­fes­sio­nal deva­lua­tion due to the pro­jec­tion of “lack of impli­ca­tion”). All of this makes way for the crea­tion of a femi­ni­ne eco­no­mic sub­jec­ti­vity, which makes the pact for vio­len­ce chea­per, the­re­fo­re increa­sing abso­lu­te sur­plus value.

All of this has had to go hand in hand with a sui­ta­ble ideo­lo­gi­cal con­text to sus­tain the social infe­rio­rity that legi­ti­mi­zes this pro­cess of subor­di­na­tion, which, accor­ding to the balan­ce of power, has mostly been based on extra-com­mer­cial or purely com­mer­cial mecha­nisms: the legal and admi­nis­tra­ti­ve system’s misogyny, the andro­cen­tric bias of our edu­ca­tion, the objec­tif­ying pres­su­re over women as objects of con­sum­ption, or the repro­duc­tion of dis­ci­pli­nary mecha­nisms within the wor­king class, such as the vio­len­ce against women. The­se pro­ces­ses have tur­ned the woman into a second rate sub­ject in all areas of society, this being one of the bourgeoisie’s stra­te­gic issues, due to it resul­ting in a sig­ni­fi­cant part of the wor­king class being left without any poli­ti­cal capa­ci­ties; and the­re­fo­re, dra­wing out the proletariat’s revo­lu­tio­nary process.

The­se pillars had a direct poli­ti­cal impact on the com­po­si­tion of the inter­na­tio­nal wor­king class, by esta­blishing inner hie­rar­chies and dis­ci­pli­nary mecha­nisms, as men­tio­ned abo­ve. The­se are oppres­si­ve and dif­fe­ren­tia­ting pro­ces­ses which have to be uni­ted from a sin­gle poli­ti­cal pers­pec­ti­ve, or else, they may result in a poli­ti­cal void.

Femi­nism, a moral pro­duct for the con­sum­ption of the mas­ses or a front of the class strug­gle? (pro­duc­to moral)

Regar­ding femi­nism, many fac­tors gave a boost to this movement’s begin­nings: the deve­lop­ment of capi­ta­lism in the nine­teenth cen­tury, the socio­eco­no­mic con­di­tions that were being esta­blished and the inabi­lity (due to its very essen­ce) to accom­plish the pro­cla­ma­tions “liberty, equa­lity, fra­ter­nity” which were put on the table in the French Revo­lu­tion for men and women. But the essen­tial mat­ter is the trans­for­ma­tion that capi­ta­lism brought upon women’s objec­ti­ve con­di­tions, that is, their mass inte­gra­tion into wage labour, which meant the begin­ning of women’s modern form of oppres­sion, crea­ting anta­go­nis­tic posi­tions amongst them: pro­le­ta­rian women aimed to achie­ve the capa­city to revo­lu­tio­ni­se the society as a who­le, whe­reas femi­nism inten­ded to inte­gra­te the woman in uni­ver­sal citizenry.

We could say that femi­nism as an ideo­logy is crea­ted with the objec­ti­ve of reaching for­mal equa­lity in a capi­ta­list set­ting, using the term “woman” as an abs­tract con­cept. Neverthe­less, when class anta­go­nism is igno­red and we con­si­der the bour­geo­is woman to be an ally, the enemy beco­mes indis­tinct. On the one hand, it hin­ders wor­king on the issue of wor­king class women, sin­ce the inter­ests of tho­se who are in power always over­co­me tho­se of the sub­ju­ga­ted class in all inter-class stra­te­gies. On the other hand, the man beco­mes the poli­ti­cal enemy, which divi­des the class and pre­vents us from being able to impro­ve our social status. 

The pro­po­sed stra­tegy fights for par­tial reforms, with which it obtains the inte­gra­tion of midd­le class women into the Sta­te at best. When trea­ting the gen­der issue uni­la­te­rally with regard to tota­lity, the pro­blem does not go away, it only chan­ges sha­pe: one such exam­ple is the fact that some women (tho­se that belong to the midd­le class) have had the option to get rid of the bur­den of domes­tic labour, han­ding it over to the most pro­le­ta­ria­ni­sed women, who now carry it out in a com­mer­cia­li­sed way. Thus, the sexual divi­sion of labour per­pe­tua­tes, whi­le the capi­tal turns a sphe­re hither­to not com­mer­cia­li­sed into a rela­tionship based on exchan­ge value, that is, an area based on exploitation.

We can­not deny that femi­nism has taken seve­ral forms over the years. Many currents have been deve­lo­ped around this ideo­logy, which must be exa­mi­ned in depth and with a cri­ti­cal eye, in order to be able to draw poli­ti­cal les­sons from them. Still, we could say that, espe­cially sin­ce the ideo­lo­gi­cal offen­si­ve against mar­xism in the ‘60 – 70s, the inabi­lity to make a real chan­ge as a result of the ten­dency to par­tia­li­se and sin­gle out the fights has beco­me evi­dent, thus crea­ting the oppor­tu­nity to elu­de the class con­flict, having eli­mi­na­ted the fra­me­work of totality. 

The pro­le­ta­rian strug­gle in the issue of the wor­king class woman: stra­te­gi­cal and tac­ti­cal elements 

From a Mar­xist pers­pec­ti­ve, in order to over­co­me the pro­blems of oppres­sed and exploi­ted women, we must have a scien­ti­fic unders­tan­ding of the world, which entails learning/​acquiring know­led­ge about the world as a who­le, not just about certain/​specific parts. In this case, we have had the option to explain the fun­ction ful­fi­lled by the subor­di­na­tion of the wor­king class woman in the for­ming of the bour­geo­is power, in the capi­ta­list domi­na­tion in its enti­rety. Clearly, eli­mi­na­ting such a fun­ction requi­res a stra­tegy that can put an end to the sys­tem in its tota­lity and ins­ti­tu­te a form of social orga­ni­sa­tion whe­re oppres­sions would cea­se to ser­ve any purpose.

All this implies the need to form the class sub­ject in all its dimen­sions, the­reby figh­ting against all the exis­ting gaps. Thus, it is inevi­ta­ble for women to join the class con­flict and that requi­res reaching the imme­dia­te will of the mas­ses, that is, iden­tif­ying the daily needs of pro­le­ta­rian women and con­nec­ting such imme­dia­te neces­si­ties with the revo­lu­tion. In other words, we must impro­ve their current situa­tion and orient tho­se fights towards increa­sing their class cons­cious­ness and encou­ra­ging them to join the socia­list struggle.

The stra­te­gic objec­ti­ve should clearly be the poli­ti­cal edu­ca­tion of the peo­ple we colla­bo­ra­te with, the pro­le­ta­rian mas­ses, the wor­king class women. As sta­ted befo­re, this should be pro­ven by means of poli­ti­cal prac­ti­ce: to demons­tra­te that the chan­ges that socia­lism implies are bene­fi­cial and neces­sary for the wor­king class. This means that the fights we will for­mu­la­te will have to be real with regard to the capa­ci­ties we have each time.
This pro­cess will make us able to pro­ve that the union hypothe­sis is correct, but only if it is lin­ked to a revo­lu­tio­nary pro­cess. In other words, reforms are only use­ful for impro­ving the con­di­tions under which we fight. In effect, we must face the bour­geo­isie, its spe­ci­fic figu­res and the colla­bo­ra­tion figu­res within the wor­king class so that, some­ti­me, that build-up of for­ces will enable us to fight the bour­geo­isie at an increa­sing level. This is the only way to edu­ca­te the pro­le­ta­riat so that it will unders­tand that it is essen­tial for it to take power at a natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nal level, in order to sur­pass its subordination.

It is clear that what we have men­tio­ned abo­ve requi­res a spe­ci­fic orga­ni­sa­tio­nal form which will be able to achie­ve its goal. That is, the orga­ni­sed pro­le­ta­rian power befo­re the bour­geo­is power. The com­mu­nist party must be the tac­ti­cal unity which will act in a simul­ta­neo­us and homo­ge­neo­us way in all fronts. Neverthe­less, this needs a stra­te­gic unity which will take on the socia­list stra­tegy, loo­king towards an arti­cu­la­tion of all fronts. We must iden­tify the real mecha­nisms able to put an end to the oppression’s spe­ci­fic expres­sions. It will be essen­tial to crea­te the requi­red tools to work with the wor­king women mas­ses and to make them awa­re of the need of a deve­lo­ped and impro­ved orga­ni­sa­tion form, in order to put an end to their oppression.

As for the spe­ci­fic lines of work and the ways of tac­kling them, the­se are solu­tions that we should urgently begin to seek and inves­ti­ga­te collec­ti­vely. What is cer­tain is that they must clearly defend that the revo­lu­tio­nary notion is a valua­ble one, to pre­vent us from social libe­ral or social demo­cra­tic moda­li­ties, which end up being dis­trac­ting mea­su­res. To this effect, it will be essen­tial to fight the inter-class current via the dis­cour­se and mostly via the prac­ti­ce, encou­ra­ging a com­prehen­si­ve mili­tancy and using the peda­gogy of the example. 

Jato­rria /​Ori­gen

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