Why Only Proletarian Revolution Can Liberate Women

Question: What is your Party's policy on women?

The Chairman Answers: Our Party's policy on women can be summarized in the slogans: "WOMEN HOLD UP HALF THE SKY" and "BREAK THE CHAINS--UNLEASH THE FURY OF WOMEN AS A MIGHTY FORCE FOR REVOLUTION!" These slogans and the policy they express are grounded in the understanding that women have a tremendous contribution to make--fully equal with that of men, in every respect--in revolutionizing society in every sphere and bringing about a whole new realm of freedom for human beings as a whole.

The oppression of women, on the greatest scale and down to the most personal and intimate detail, is an everyday fact of life under the present order. In personal-family relations, and everywhere in society, women--even those of the propertied and financially well-off classes--are continually subjected to insult, threats, abuse, degradation, and brutality at the hands of men. They are virtually treated as property themselves--as commodities to be bought and sold and to be used to sell other commodities. Male supremacist domination and oppression of women is not only an everyday fact of life--it is a foundation stone of capitalism and of all systems where one section of society dominates and exploits others. And therefore it is woven into the fabric of society and the dominant culture--in religious-based "traditional morality" as well as in the flagrant sexual plunder of pornography and prostitution.

At the same time, in the U.S. and more generally throughout the world, the increasing involvement of women in workforce and in many other spheres of social life, and the growing resistance of masses of women to their "traditional" enslavement and to the attacks on them, is coming more and more openly into conflict with the need of the ruling classes to aggressively enforce this "traditional" enslavement and its accompanying "traditional morality." This is a very explosive contradiction--a potentially very powerful force for the most radical revolution in human history, proletarian revolution.

The oppression of women did not always exist--for thousands of years, men and women related to each other without domination and exploitation. The oppression of women first arose when early communal society split up into different and antagonistic classes. This happened not because of some unavoidable "flaw in human nature," but because changes in production--in tools and technique--undermined the old communal way of carrying out production (mainly gathering and hunting) and of sharing what was acquired in this way. Private accumulation of wealth went along with the new forms of production, which involved private ownership of the means of production (land, tools, and even people taken as slaves). One group in society now monopolized control of the means of production and dominated social life as a whole, forcing the others to labor for them. And, bound up with this, the more or less "spontaneous" or "natural" division of labor between women and men--where women took responsibility for the rearing of children in their early years--was transformed into an oppressive relation.

The family so familiar in today's world (the "nuclear family") where the man is the "Lord" of his household, with domination over his wife and children--this emerged with the accumulation of wealth as private property. The man controlled this property and insisted upon control over his wife, including her sexual and reproductive activity, in order to see to it that this property was passed on to his children, in particular his male children (and not someone else's). As Frederick Engels pointed out, the word "family" itself is derived from the ancient Roman word, familia, which referred to a household in which the man had the power of life and death over his wife and children as well as his slaves.

In some recent writings on the question of Morality, I have called attention to the fundamental point that, throughout the entire revolutionary process that aims to create the conditions for communism, the struggle must be waged to continually, and ever more thoroughly, overcome and uproot the relations of inequality and oppression that shackle women; to promote personal, family, and sexual relations that are based on mutual love and respect and equality between men and women; and to increasingly develop forms for the masses of people to carry out-- through cooperative efforts involving men equally with women--the functions which are now focused overwhelmingly in the family and which are a burden on women in particular. Through this profound revolutionary process, the "nuclear family" will be finally abolished and replaced by new forms of social relations in communist society--a society based on conscious and voluntary cooperation among people--without economic, political, and social domination and inequality.

Engels, in discussing the connection between the family and the accumulation of wealth as private property in human historical development, also emphasized something even more important and profound: While, in the past, changes in production undermined the basis for a communal society and brought into being relations of exploitation and oppression--including very centrally the oppression of women--humanity has now reached the point where such exploitation and oppression is not only unnecessary but is a definite hindrance to the all-around development of human beings and their society. The only thing now holding back a great leap in this development is the capitalist-imperialist system of exploitation that dominates the world and the continuing oppressive relations bound up with this system and with the division of human society into exploiting and exploited classes.

Humanity as a whole and its forces of production--including not only technology but, most importantly, people and their knowledge and skills--have long since reached the point where poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition and literal starvation could be completely eliminated. Yet these things are still very widespread in the world, affecting the great majority of the world's people. Humanity has reached the point where meeting the all-around needs of the people, including the rearing of children and providing for future generations, could be achieved through the cooperative efforts of all members of society, women and men, with equality and in a way that continuously advances people's understanding of and transformation of society and the world in the interests of humanity as a whole. But the control and organization of humanity's forces of production, and of political, cultural and intellectual life, by a small number of exploiters stands directly in the way of all this.

That is why revolution, and nothing less than revolution, is needed and urgently called for--a proletarian revolution--a revolution that, in achieving its final aim of communism, will sweep away all class divisions and exploitation and all oppressive social relations, including the shackling of women in "tradition's chains." And, at the same time, the struggle to overturn and uproot the oppression of women will play a great and central part in carrying out this proletarian revolution and bringing a communist world into being.

Any other kind of struggle against the existing order, guided by any other class outlook and interest, including religious-led movements, will sooner or later seek to reinforce the chains binding women and, together with that, the chains binding the masses of people as a whole.

Compare the experience of revolutionary China under Mao's leadership with the so-called "Islamic revolution" in Iran or elsewhere: one of the things that stands out the most is the profound, radical difference with regard to the role of women and the relation of this to the character of society as a whole. In socialist China, where Marxism-Leninism-Maoism was the guiding ideology, the slogan "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" was popularized and made a rallying cry of struggle throughout society, and historic advances were made in the battle to uproot the oppression of women; in Iran today, and wherever religious fundamentalism is in leadership, women are openly treated as inferior to men, as lesser beings requiring the "protection"--that is, the domination--of men.

To put it in simple and basic terms: The liberation of the poor and exploited people of the world is completely bound up with the liberation of women from every form of male supremacist domination and oppression, and vice versa--you cannot have one without the other.

Because they are constantly subjected to--and repeatedly rise up against--male supremacist domination and oppression, and because they are half of humanity and half of the world's exploited and oppressed people, women will indeed be a tremendously powerful force for revolution--proletarian revolution. This will be true in the struggle to overthrow the present system and in continuing the revolution after the proletariat has seized power and set up its own rule in society. And, in turn, no other force in the world, besides the revolutionary proletariat, has an interest in and dares to fully take up the fight to abolish the oppression of women and to fully unleash the fury of women as a revolutionary force. This is because no other class in society, besides the proletariat, has nothing to protect in the present order and no interest in preserving any of the oppressive relations that are bound up with the division of society into classes.

Our Party's Programme states this very clearly: "as Lenin put it, a measure of the thoroughness (and the success) of any revolution is the degree to which it mobilizes and emancipates women." The fight against the oppression of women is a crucial part of preparing the ground for and then carrying out the overthrow of the present oppressive capitalist order. And our Programme goes on to emphasize that, with the overthrow of this system and the establishment of socialism under the rule of the proletariat, the struggle to uproot the oppression of women not only must continue and will continue, but must become even more thoroughgoing and deep-going:

"[It] will not be confined to any one sphere, but will go on throughout all of society. Revolution is impossible without the constant breaking with old ideas and old institutions, and the practices and values which promote the oppression of women are a key prop of the old; they must be a key target of the proletariat in destroying the old and creating the new. In any sphere, from employment to literature and art, this question will be raised and will be the source of ongoing struggle in order to ensure the full participation of women in the socialist society and the ongoing proletarian revolution and thereby immensely strengthen that revolution."

All this is the world-historical content and meaning of the Party's policy on women and of the slogans: "Women Hold Up Half the Sky" and "Break the Chains--Unleash the Fury of Women as a Mighty Force for Revolution!"