A Socialist Labor Party Statement—

Socialists and Women’s Day

More and more over the past five years the women’s movement has revived an old socialist tradition—the commemoration of March 8 as International Women’s Day.

It was at the Copenhagen congress in 1910 that the Second International proclaimed March 8 a day of solidarity among the women workers of the world. Among the delegates present were seven members of the Socialist Labor Party, including Daniel De Leon and three women, one of them Olive Johnson, who later became editor of the Weekly People.

The International’s proclamation was just one formal recognition of the growing ties between the socialist and women’s movements in the early 1900s. In the United States, sharp struggles by women in the textile industry as well as the fight for women’s suffrage had mobilized many workers. SLP delegate Ann Touroff told the Congress how these struggles helped prompt the formation of the “Socialist Women of Greater New York” in 1905, a group launched “with the aim of reaching and educating the women proletarians in this city and gradually to extend their activities to all parts of the country.”

Today, of course, the celebration of this holiday with roots in working-class history is much more than a revival of tradition. It’s a sign of renewed struggle and proof that decades of efforts since 1910 have failed to win full equality or freedom for women.

Now as then, women are fighting a two-edged battle. On the one hand, they confront the special forms of sexist oppression bound up with a thoroughly male supremacist society. On the other, the great majority of women suffer the class exploitation weighing on all workers.

It’s a gauge of how much capitalism needs this sexist inequality that nearly half a century after women won the right to vote, they still find themselves fighting for equal legal footing. The drive for the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), like the suffrage movement before it, proves that even formal equality is hard to come by in a system that materially benefits from women’s oppression.

The reaction against the ERA, the FBI’s campaign of infiltration and spying on women’s organizations, the state’s cutbacks in day care programs, court decisions upholding sex discrimination—these are just the latest examples of how progress toward equality is constantly undermined and resisted. Moreover, they show why the struggle for democratic rights can only be a beginning.

Full social equality for women, or any segment of the working class, is impossible so long as a small class owns the economy and dominates all social institutions. There is no way to evade this central fact. As long as capitalism survives, it will require competition in the labor market and will reproduce inequalities in every sphere of life. In order for any part of the working class to put an end to its oppression, the class as a whole will have to put an end to capitalism.

This is why the struggle for women’s equality, in the final analysis, is a class question with revolutionary implications. The prerequisites for the equality women are now demanding are a collectively owned economy and full democratic control over all social institutions by the working majority.

Such a socialist society could not magically dissolve overnight all the manifestations of sexist oppression. Class society has reproduced cultural and sexual patterns of inequality for thousands of years and it may take a generation raised in a radically new social atmosphere to erase them completely. But a socialist society would lay a firm foundation for real equality between the sexes. Without that foundation, equality will remain a dream.

The renewed commemoration of International Women’s Day is a good sign. It should be made part of a growing effort to link up the women’s movement with the fight for socialism and an end to the class roots of all inequality.


Socialist Labor Party of America, P.O. Box 218, Mountain View, CA 94042-0218 • www.slp.org • socialists@slp.org

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