Left must fight for women's rights

About 30,000 people marched in September in Melbourne after Jill Meagher's murder.

Socialist Alternative has sparked a debate about whether socialists should be involved in feminist campaigns in an article published on its website on November 22 "Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night and the political right"

This is an excerpt of an interview by Joel Cosgrove of the New Zealand Workers Party, with Socialist Alliance member Margarita Windisch, who spoke at the Melbourne Reclaim the Night march and has been involved in many women's rights campaigns, which addresses some of Socialist Alternative's criticisms.

The interview was published on November 19. To read the full interview, click here.

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Some socialists put forward that what looks like the women’s movement from the 70s in the 21st century is compromised and a “bourgeois tool”. What are your thoughts on this?

Every movement is imbued with liberal ideology, the dominant ideology in capitalist societies, and the women’s movement is no exception. That’s why it is important for socialists to be involved. Our task is to inject a radical class analysis that develops consciousness beyond the limitations of our current system and fights for a society that is liberating for all humanity.

Gender oppression is the oldest and most entrenched oppression, hence difficult to fight. It is deeply woven into the fabric of our society and affects all or relationships, including sexually intimate ones. Building a strong women’s movement that is independent of bourgeois parties is critical in the fight for socialism.

By demanding an end to women’s oppression in all its many manifestations, the movement directly challenges capitalist relations of production and re-production. Imagine if suddenly women were to charge professional wages for all the work they do currently for free to bring up the new generation of workers, caring for the elderly and sick and running the household? The whole capitalist economy would collapse.

Some people on the left have a very narrow interpretation of how to win women’s liberation. Their perspective implies that all we need is a revolution and that will sort it. History has already demonstrated that a change in economic relations alone is insufficient in addressing women’s oppression. This requires the complete transformation of all social relations, including social relations in the private sphere.  The family is a critical economic unit for class society where unequal gender relations are reproduced. This needs to be challenged.

Working-class men as a class don’t benefit from women’s oppression, it increases their exploitation. The complexities however lie in the fact that individual working-class men are privileged under the current system – for example, most housework is still done by women, even when both partners work full time. Women still take the bulk of responsibilities for child rearing and studies have found that it is overwhelmingly daughters, not sons that care for their infirm elderly parents. In other words, individual men benefit from gender oppression.

And the question is this: “why should women wait for the revolution to deliver our liberation?” We need to create our own. And to do so, we want to win as many battles on the gender front as possible even under capitalism it does make life easier and more enjoyable, which surely is the point! Some wins, such as the legalisation of abortion, save lives — literally. Experience has also shown that any victory can be snatched away again under our brutal class system.

This again highlights that women’s liberation needs a radical transformation of society, which allows all humans to fulfil their potential and where the concept of gender in itself has become redundant. And by changing society and social relations we transform ourselves, a critical element in human liberation. I call it revolutionary socialism.