Gender

Proletarian Socialism and Women's Liberation

Proletarian Socialism and Women's Liberation: The Historical Roots of Socialist-Feminism?

Soma Marik


One of the factors behind the rise of socialist feminism in the 1970s was the challenge of radical feminism.  Early radical feminism asserted that: (a) the state was patriarchal; (b) women existed as an exploited social layer; (c) violence against women was not incidental but built into the social structure. This compelled Marxist women, who accepted the concept of a class-state, to try and integrate analyses of capitalism with analyses of patriarchy. Since the Marxist political movement, claims at the same time to be the movement for working class self emancipation, and to be the movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority,  the first question to ask was whether the category of gender has an autonomous space within class, or whether, in the words of Heidi Hartmann, the relationship between the two is like the relationship between husband and wife in English common law, where in a marriage the two are one, and that one is the husband?  Hartmann proposed a "dual system" theory, envisaging parallel oppressions by capitalism and patriarchy. To Young, for example, this seemed inadequate, and she proposed a feminist historical materialism, where the idea is not to treat the woman half the time as a woman and half the time as a worker but all the time as a woman worker, so that it is one unified system that is the oppressor.   Jagger, while agreeing that capitalism and patriarchy are tied up, wanted to extend the Marxist idea of economic foundation of society to cover reproduction.  This means that sexuality and conditions of reproduction should not be treated as mere superstructure on an economic base. In a number of analyses, attempts were made to work out a critique of capitalist patriarchy.   In course of the attempts to rework the inherited theory of Marxism, one issue that stood out was the double burden on women -- as workers exploited by capital and as women exploited within the family. Women's unpaid work at home therefore became a major issue. A debate on domestic labour showed that the family under capitalism had economic as well as ideological functions, and exploded the myth that "women's work" was a natural attribute of womanhood. Other areas, sometimes scantily treated by classical Marxists, which received attention, were problems of sexuality, the housewife and her alienation, and the need to integrate other forms of knowledge, e.g., psychoanalysis.  This flowed from the realisation that classical Marxism was deficient in mapping non-economic areas of oppression. But it has become evident, with the recovery of past socialist women's movements in Europe, that an assessment of classical Marxism cannot be restricted to textual analysis, but requires close investigation of those movements. That is the aim of the present paper which tries to explore the following questions.


1.    Did early socialist women's movement give any recognition to gender-based oppression?
2.    How were class interest and class-consciousness measured? That is, were the demands and aspirations of the women workers treated as legitimate parts of the working class demands, or were they shunted off as being backward and bourgeois influenced?
3.    How far were the specific dimensions of women workers' oppression /alienation both at the workplace and at home integrated in socialist propaganda and practice?
4.    Was the class vanguard and party leadership constructed in purely male workers' terms -- or was there attempts to integrate women on the basis of some measure of equality? We need to remember that the caricature Leninism of subsequent periods resulted in an exodus of women, not only from Stalinist parties but also from other far left ones.
5.    What sort of organisational principles did socialist women possess in the late 19th century and early 20th century? Did women have autonomy, or some space of their own? What mobilisation strategy did the parties have? How far were women taken up in the leadership and in what terms?
6.    How far did socialist women visualise cross-class gender unity?
7.    Was there a real backwardness of women workers, or was backwardness an identity imposed on them through the acceptance of masculine norms of politics?

Marx, Engels, Bebel, Lenin : Deconstructing the foundational texts

We need to begin by examining some key ideas of Marx, Engels, Bebel and Lenin. The treatment in this paper is necessarily sketchy, highlighting only certain facets connecting them to the parties and movements under consideration. The Communist Manifesto produced a sharp critique of the bourgeois family, and suggested, in a display of radicalism not always matched by later Marxist writings, that the end of capitalism could also see the end of the family. Marx's lifelong stress on the self-emancipation of the working class also made it possible to consider that working class women would not have to stand as beneficiaries to deeds done by others. His critique of political economy showed how historically specific the existing forms of women's oppression were, and this, together with the contribution of Engels in The Origin of Family, Private Property and the State, made it possible to regard women's oppression, not as something dictated by nature, but as a social relationship which could be overcome in course of the progress of history. Finally, Marx's idea of alienation was something that could be extended to explain women's domestic conditions, though he himself applied it only to the working class in its relationship to the bourgeoisie.  Marx and Engels' writings also revealed problems. Little attention was paid to the working class family. The typical worker in Marx's analytical model was an adult male. So the discussion on alienation ignored women and their alienation at housework.  And while Engels' Origins provided an historical analysis of women's oppression (an immense step forward from any idea of the naturalness of women's subordination) in his writings, too, the non-economic sources of oppression were extremely inadequately conceptualised.
Bebel's book, Woman in the Past, Present and Future, first appeared in 1878, and was certainly the first Marxist best seller, running to almost 50 German editions by the early 20th century, and being translated into several languages. Bebel made several theoretical contributions:
1.    He highlighted the double oppression of working class women and argued that their paid employment or waged work could not bring about emancipation while they were burdened with domestic work;
2.    From this identification of women as the most oppressed category he insisted that socialism could not succeed without full participation of women;
3.    Bebel was also able to recognise that control over women's sexuality, double standards of sexual morality and related forms of oppression made it possible for women of different classes [" the enemy sisters"] to unite behind common demands. These ideas, undoubtedly, go a long way in a “radical reorganisation of gender relations” within the class movement.  However Bebel, like Engels, seemed to assume that childcare and domestic work were women's works. As a result his socialist solution involved not so much a questioning of existing gender division of labour as an attempt to lighten women's burden through mechanisation and the transfer of much of this work to the public domain. As socialist feminists like Lise Vogel have argued, this lack of a clear theoretical space to develop an understanding of patriarchy eventually has the effect of suppressing his insights.  The space occupied by Lenin in this context is even more complex, because much of his contribution is related to one of his key achievements, the party.   While Lenin was capable of highlighting women's oppression, including their domestic drudgery, his belief at times seems to be that the socialist revolution would automatically lead to women's emancipation. In particular, he had a deep opposition to treating problems of sexuality as an autonomous domain. In a conversation with Clara Zetkin, he criticised German communist women of Hamburg for discussing issues of sexuality and suggested that they would be better off with athletics. He emphatically criticised them for discussing Freud rather than Bebel, and talked about 'orgiastic' excesses. He also criticised them for organising prostitutes and publishing a paper for them.  Clara Zetkin's report says nothing about why Freud was to be rejected or why women's sexuality was an apolitical issue.   This is not to argue that Lenin had nothing worthwhile to say. In the same conversation with Zetkin he also accepted that women workers could not be expected to join the struggle to establish workers' power unless the political connection between that power and their conditions was made clear. Lenin also stressed the need to re-educate men so that they shared domestic work, while the party as a whole took up seriously the task of politicising women workers  -- revolutionising women's consciousness. Thus, in his position serious attempts to address gender issues are mixed with instrumentalism and signal political blindness.
The key concept of a vanguard workers' party and its backbone, the professional revolutionary, also posed certain problems. Lenin's important contribution comes from What Is To Be Done? There are certain problematic passages in this book, which are often highlighted, on one hand by the right wing, and on the other hand by Stalinist substitutionism, as the essential arguments of the book and indeed of the whole of Leninism.  Lenin later repudiated many of those.  The concept of professional revolutionary, however, continued to be significant. Lenin wanted a revolutionary party of activists where all members had the same rights and duties, without the domination of the petty bourgeois intelligentsia. He also wanted that militant workers should develop leadership capabilities. In order to do so, and to centralise the political experience of a class that by his analysis was much fragmented, it was necessary to bring together vanguard workers and unify the sectional experiences of the class. But very little was done to integrate women workers' experiential/existential realities. Instead, many leading male Bolsheviks treated their difference as a sign of backwardness.
Similarly, the idea of the full-timer professional revolutionary, when not clearly examined for gender implications could have serious negative consequences for women workers. In early 20th century Russia, the average woman worker was married and had children by the time she was 20-22. Without party education to enhance the value of work done by women, or to organise them separately, formal equality of comrades in the party could not erase the real inequality of the private sphere as women had to look after children, do household work, and earn money for their professional revolutionary husbands. Cecelia Bobrovskaya, a veteran revolutionary and a mid-wife, wrote later that during a long underground career, she had met a number of women, who in every way were committed to the revolutionary cause, but who had given birth to children, and who were so tied down by domestic work that they could not be professional revolutionaries.  A large number of male Bolshevik workers became leaders, like Shlyapnikov, Tomsky, Kanatchikov, Zalutskii. The percentage of women leaders was low and that for women leaders of working class origin absolutely negligible. Indeed, only two working class women became leaders -- Alexandra Artiukhina and Klavdiia Nikolaeva. On the eve of the February revolution, the Bolshevik Party had 24,000 members, while a few thousand more veteran activists from other trends joined during1917. There were 2500 women. The research of Barbara Evans Clements has brought to light information about the social origins, educational qualifications, professions, etc of 318 women and 254 men at comparable levels, an adequate sample for a couple of conclusions. 62.1% of the men, but only 36.8% women, were of working class or peasant origin.  Many worker Bolsheviks, mostly men, held on to a job and still did regular party work. It should not be forgotten that most of the women professional revolutionaries were non-proletarian. Women in general and working class women in particular, had to make sacrifices and take hard decision of an order which their husbands or their male comrades did not. In other cases, there remained as life-long sense of guilt about having neglected the children. Women who had families and held a job could not get time for extensive party work.

Issues in the Proletarian Women's Movement

Mass recruitment of women and the launching of mass women's movements were particularly noticeable in the German Social Democracy. The other significant case, which we will consider, is the Russian case. Because of underground conditions of existence through most of the pre-Revolutionary period, there was a less spectacular sustained movement in Russia, but the events of 1917, together with some of the theoretical issues discussed, make a discussion of the Russian case along with the German one necessary.
Creating a Political Space for the Women Workers:
In both Germany and Russia, the initial assumption was that all militant workers, regardless of sex, would come into the party. But as Emma Ihrer, a German woman leader, recognised, there were no mass proletarian women's movement even decades after the formation of the Social Democratic Party.  It soon appeared that not only legal barriers, but also male supremacist assumptions within the party made real equality difficult. Under different circumstances, in both countries, socialist women found that launching women's papers created a space for women workers. In 1891, Ihrer had launched a paper entitled Die Arbeiterein, with the aim of developing women cadres, raising their voices against exploitation and inequality and for socialism. After a year, the paper was about to fold up for lack of funds. But the socialist publishing house of Dietz acquired the paper, and made Clara Zetkin the new editor. Renamed Die Gleichheit (Equality), this was to become a major voice of proletarian feminism over the years, though Zetkin always disclaimed the term feminism. By 1900 Gleichheit had a circulation of 4000, rising to around 70,000 by 1907.
Women cadre shouldered the burden of recruitment, partly due to a deep-rooted proletarian anti-feminism entrenched in the party. At the heart of the battle to win more women into the party and to make of them committed fighters for socialism was the endeavour of Die Gleichheit. The first issue of the paper had declared that women's subordination was ultimately based on property relations.  Editorials explained that the journal would not deal narrowly with "feminine" issues, but with all general issues affecting working class women. Another editorial, repeated each year throughout the 1890s, stated:
"Gleichheit is directed especially to the most progressive proletarians, whether they are slaves to capital with their hands or with their heads. It strives to school these theoretically, to make possible for them a clear understanding of the historical course of development and to make possible for them not only to work consciously in the battle for the liberation of the proletariat but also to be effective in enlightening and teaching their class comrades and training these as fighters with a clear goal."
The paper regularly published articles of a theoretical nature. It also served as a journal of communication for organised women workers and a lot of space was devoted to describing conditions of industries hiring large numbers of women. On the suffrage question, Zetkin published almost thirty articles in the paper. This was therefore a dual policy -- on one hand the party was being made aware that the women's issues were very much class issues, while on the other hand women were equipped to understand all manner of issues and to take part in all the struggles rather than remaining confined to a very narrowly defined women's area.
In 1898, Zetkin's support to the left wing in the Revisionism controversy led the right to bring the charges was that Gleichheit had failed to launch a large women's movement. Zetkin replied that this was the task of the party as a whole, not that of a paper whose task was to produce an ideological influence within the movement. When, in 1900, the Social Democratic women held their first conference in Mainz, resolutions were moved trying to get Gleichheit to deal with "popular" questions, which was firmly resisted by Zetkin, Otilie Baader etc.
In Russia, too, one major step in creating an autonomous space for women came in 1912, when, looking at the women readers' response to a women's page in Pravda, a number of Bolshevik women activists decided to launch a paper for women. Though Lenin is credited with the initiative, the evidence shows that in fact Inessa Armand and Krupskaya among the exiles, and Anna Elizarova, and Konkordia Samoilova within Russia were the main figures behind the launching of the Rabotnitsa.  There were two perspectives among them, with Krupskaya writing that women were backward and had to be brought into the movement, while Armand stressed that without more encouragement to the struggles of women workers the socialist movement could not proceed forward.  The paper was eventually closed down due to police attacks on the paper. Though Rabotnitsa consistently opposed "separatism", experience led the women working with women workers to feel that some kind of autonomy was essential to enable women to think things out or themselves. What is of significance is that in all the cases, most of the women flatly denied that they were feminists, by which they meant bourgeois feminist and "separatist", but in both the Russian and the German case the effect of their work was to provide a space for the political development of women workers, and for the articulation of views specific to them. The revival of Rabotnitsa in 1917 was to be the organisational means whereby Kollontai, Samoilova and others would mobilise and fight for the demands of vast numbers of women workers.
Organising the Women:
But if the paper was not itself the organiser, Zetkin certainly tried to promote the organisation of women -- in the trade unions and in the party. The 1892 Halberstadt Congress of the trade unions saw a resolution being adopted for the formation of mixed trade unions. But little practical work was done in the next year. This resulted in a major essay by Zetkin.  She pointed out that on one hand there was the pressure of ages of upbringing and dominant ideologies, making for "stupid resignation, lack of a feeling of solidarity, shyness, prejudices of all kind", while even more important was the "lack of time on the part of female workers". This made it difficult to form unions in industries where women formed the bulk of the workforce. Double duties meant women could not organise effectively. On the other hand where men and women worked together the same conditions meant that the union was primarily male in orientation.
Thus, organising women workers was possible only through achieving class unity, which in turn was possible when sexism within the working class is overcome.  On this issue, according to Maria Mies, Zetkin was wrong to oppose the attempts (for example by some radical German feminists) to organise purely women's unions. But Mies' own narrative shows that the politics of the Central Association of German Girls and Women was similar to that of the radical wing of the liberal feminists. However radical, liberalism is based on individualism, not on class solidarity. Secondly, Zetkin was not simply turning her back on attempts to organise women, nor "disorganising them" as Mies says. She was insisting that unions had to include both men and women, and that they had to do so on the basis of equality. In order to achieve this goal, she was trying to get the existing unions to reorient themselves.  And these efforts bore fruit. The number of women in the trade unions rose from 4355 in 1891 to 136,929 in 1907.
Recruiting women in the party was even more difficult. To circumvent the Law on Association, the major hurdle to women's recruitment, Agitation Commissions were set up in different cities in 1889-1895, to co-ordinate work by trade unions and the party among women. In course of this work, Zetkin and Baader had to modify another of their original ideas -- namely, the complete identity of the struggle for women's liberation with socialism. After originally opposing the reservation of Party Congress delegate seats for women, they had to recognise that without this women were being eliminated from the delegations.
The 1892 Congress had however taken serious steps to get more women in the party. In order to get round the precise letter of the law concerning women joining associations, the SPD decided to create a network of Vertrauenspersonen, or spokespersons. Individual women could act in a political capacity, and such individual spokespersons were elected, whose task was described as educating proletarian women in political and trade union matters and awakening and reinforcing their class-consciousness. In 1895 the Agitation Commissions were banned, so these individuals became the sole semi-legal vehicles for organising women in the party till 1907. Between 1901 and 1907 the number of female Vertrauenspersonen rose from 25 to 407. The effect of their work can be gauged by the fact that once the legal restriction on women joining the party was lifted, in 1908, there were 29,468 women in the party, a figure that rose by 1914 to 174,474.
One reason why the women worked so successfully was the fact that, partly due to the legal situation itself, they had to be given a lot of autonomy in working out their tactics, even though the political line was clearly worked out by the entire party. Immediately after the repeal of the Law on Associations, the opportunist elements in the leadership tried to end the so-called separatist tendencies by launching attempts to bring both the women and the youth under tighter control. In 1912 the SPD closed down the women's bureau. The women, like Zetkin, had not thought of the bureau as merely a technical organisation. They had seen the potential it had as a forum for political expression by women workers. But precisely this, as well as the fact that Zetkin stood well to the left of the majority of the leadership, made the bureau a target of attack. 
The experience of work among women in the Russian Social Democracy had a similar pattern. Women workers were considered backward, so there was initially only limited work with them. As a militant factory woman said," the masses of the workers held that politics wasn't the woman's business. Her business was at home, with the children, the nappies and pots and pans…".  The first attempts to organise women during the revolution of 1905 came to nought. When Alexandra Kollontai called an all working women's meeting she found it was cancelled and a notice put up that the next day there would be an all-men's meeting.  Despite all this harassment, a few women workers' meetings were held under the guise of literacy campaigns. In 1907, meetings of women textile workers were organised in St. Petersburg, where problems of women workers were discussed. A mutual aid club was also set up, and though its membership was open to men, it was basically for women, to help them out so that they could get some of the domestic work done, so that they could have some leisure, and so that through summer camps etc they could take part in political discussions. But it ran into heavy weather as men objected to it. They asserted that such a club promoted bad blood between men and women, and the club was soon closed down.  As we shall see below, attempts to organise women for the purpose of intervening in a Women's Congress was viewed with the deepest of distrust.
In 1917, in the open and democratic atmosphere, new attempts were made to bring more women into the party. Even the formerly anti-autonomy activists, like Vera Slutskaya, began advocating a separate organisational space for women. By 1917, women formed 43% of the workforce of the capital. They had to be organised if the revolutionary movement was to win. The first weeks after the February revolution saw an unprecedented wave of organisation of women. Rank and file Bolsheviks were often active among them. But nonetheless, the proposal that there should be a special bureau in the party to organise women was greeted with hostility.  Though on paper a resolution was taken that every raion committee should set up women's bureaux, in fact few did so. But Rabotnitsa was revived, and it was to become the centre of Bolshevik work among women workers. Kollontai, Stal', Samoilova, Elizarova, Kudelli, Nikolaeva, Velichkina, used the paper to organise different layers of women workers.  A Rabotnitsa school was also set up to train factory women in the art of public speaking so that they could work as agitators among more factory women. Soon the editors began to organise massive Rabotnitsa rallies in Petrograd, where hundreds of men and women attended meetings and heard Bolshevik propaganda. Eventually the Bolshevik women got the party to agree to a women workers' conference in Petrograd, which was held on 12th and 18th November, and attended by 500 delegates representing over 80,000 women workers. The aim of the conference was to mobilise the working class women for the coming Constituent Assembly elections, and took the position that unless work among women was organised as a distinct task, women would be ignored.
The differences between the Russian and the German cases seem to have sprung from the fact that the majority of the leadership in Germany were reformists, or increasingly inclining towards reformism, and so did not want a thoroughgoing organisation of women, whereas the Bolsheviks in 1917, committed to a struggle for the seizure of power, were at least pragmatically committed to mobilising the women workers. This opportunity was seized by those women members who, despite their disclaimers, can be fairly treated as feminists.
The International Proletarian Women's Day:
Over the years Zetkin and her women co-thinkers had come to realise that autonomous space provided better opportunities for women workers. So they tried to push in measures to increase this space. One major innovation was the organisation of International Proletarian Women's Day. Though this was meant to highlight the struggle for the vote, for Zetkin that struggle was but a step in the direction of the struggle for socialism, to be waged by women and men workers on the basis of equality between themselves.  Circumventing the SPD's bureaucracy, she had first got an international Socialist Women's Conference, and then the International Socialist Congress at Copenhagen to call for the observation of an international day of action by working class women.  This call was then utilised for militant mobilisations of women in every country where the left-wing women were strong in the social democratic parties. Certainly, in 1911, 1912 and 1913, the three major occasions when the Women's Day was observed, German working class women found a voice in a manner which neither state nor patriarchy liked.
The International Proletarian Women's Day was observed seriously in Russia, too, despite the tremendous problems involved. On one hand there was the problem of police intervention, and on the other hand there was the deep suspicion in many socialist quarters about such a programme. Many members thought it was some kind of separatism. Kollontai wrote an article, Zhenskii Dyen, targeting the impact of patriarchy on the working class movement.  She highlighted the insensitivity of the male comrades to explain why there was low membership of women in the party and mass organisations. She wrote that the prospects of revolution would be more the more conscious fighters grew in numbers. Those women who merely carried out the instructions of their fathers or husbands, or who sat by the chimney the whole day, could not automatically develop consciousness to challenge masculine norm of politics (this presupposed that it was the task of the party to develop that).

Demands, Class Goals, Interaction with Feminists:

The historical experience, of both countries, is that the struggle led to concretisation of demands and eventually to a gendering of the programme and outlook. In Germany, the 1875 Gotha Congress, which had united two socialist parties, had defeated August Bebel's motion calling for votes for both men and women.  But the growth of a female factory proletariat and party work among them were factors leading to the SPD accepting the demand for universal adult suffrage for both men and women. By 1896, the SPD party congress was to adopt a programme for women workers. The demands included the following: Extension of protection (crèches, paid maternity leave, education of working hours); Equal political rights; Equal pay for equal work; Abolition of the system of servants; Equal education for both the sexes; Equal status in private law; and Freedom of occupation.
On one hand, many of the demands were formulated in such a way that they could also cover non-working class women's issues. This was intentional, in a bid to establish proletarian hegemony. As Zetkin wrote in 1895, "In Germany the cause of the bourgeois woman has also become the cause of Social Democracy." On the other hand, there were strong elements of protectionist demands. Mies criticises this, arguing that the liberal feminists who had opposed protectionism were right.  Zetkin's short anticipatory answer was that the equal right to starve was no right. In addition, the struggle to reduce the working hours for women became a weapon for actually reducing the working hours of all, since men and women often worked in the same factories and the same departments apart from the fact that women workers would have more time for organisational work. Even paid maternity leave established proletarian women's right to work instead of merely highlighting gender as a biological entity.
Gendering the SPD programme also meant forcing male workers to take a hard look at their own assumptions and behaviour.  In connection with the recruitment of women into trade unions, Zetkin warned that sexism within the working class was taking its toll. "The male workers must stop viewing the female worker primarily as a woman to be courted if she is young, beautiful, pleasant and cheerful (or not)…. The workers must rather get accustomed to treat female labourers primarily as female proletarians, as working-class comrades fighting class slavery and as equal and indispensable co-fighters in the class struggle."
In the Russian Social Democracy, protectionism was not a debated issue. The Second Party Congress of 1903 adopted a programme, which stressed maternity leave, crèches, etc. And the socialists were serious in fighting for these demands. Every strike wave saw these demands being raised. By contrast, the demand for equal pay for equal work was neither raised by the party, nor taken up widely within the working class movement. Though a demand for a minimum wage was raised in 1905, the minimum for women was less than the minimum for men.
With a growth in the ranks of women workers after 1905, their own experiences began shaping demands and struggles. Women were elected to the Soviets of Workers Deputies of St. Petersburg and Ivanovo-Voznesensk. As a result of the initial lack of socialist attention to the struggles by women workers the strikes and other forms of agitation launched by them often remained unorganised when one looks at the typical models of organisation. And yet the women frequently displayed exemplary organisation and clarity of purpose. As long as the rational choices in the name of class goals were made exclusively by and for male workers, the women appeared irrational, violent. In fact, the violence and elemental spontaneity displayed in many women’s strikes stemmed from an attempt by the women to put their stamp on the struggles, and to break away from the tight constraints of patriarchal control. Thus, as late as 1917, women textile workers, sisters of those who had set off the revolution, could display sudden violence and force concessions out of their director in ways trade union organisers would oppose as spontaneous violence. A study of strike demands reveal that as the working class movement became more and more organised, the union and party leaderships tended to impose a uniform demand pattern. The growth of local struggles into a broadly comprehended class struggle meant negotiation and incorporation of the aspirations of different groups. On the other hand, along with the demands forming a discourse shaping the specific nature of the working class, they also constituted a discourse that reasserted male bias. As a result, “general demands” seldom talked about equal wages for men and or women. When the demand for minimum wages was first made in 1905, the demand was for 90 kopecks daily for men and 75 for women. When women themselves took a leading role, the demands could change. In 1912 alone, in 22 strikes in which women were present in a significant or dominant number, an end to sexual harassment in the name of searching workers as they left the factory premises, was a major demand.  In 1913, this was even the main reason for the strike at the Grisov factory. But centralised charters of demand still did not reflect this. The demands raised by the women workers displayed a growing awareness that demand standardisation did not conceptualise their specific oppression. Sexual harassment by supervisory staff was one of the prominent demands in a large number of struggles. Though infrequently, the demand for equal pay was raised. In 1917 too, we see similar patterns. That year, when factory committees won a minimum wage clause from the owners in Petrograd, the rates were 5 roubles for men and 4 roubles for women. In Moscow, while 220,478 strikers (92.3% of all strikers) in 185 strikes (68.8% of all strikes) demanded wage rises, only 550 workers participating in two strikes demanded equal pay for equal work. Women workers were aware of problems posed by male bias in the unions. At the Petrograd Cartridge Works, after demanding an 8-hour working day, men also demanded overtime payment for work on Saturdays, while women workers resisted this, saying they needed time for domestic work, for standing in queue, or for looking after their children.  When society treated domestic burden as solely a woman’s burden, the overtime would come as a punishment to the women. Tsvetkova, a woman worker in the leather industry, described the situation she faced at her workplace:
“Instead of supporting women workers, organising them, … many male comrades regard them not as full and equal members of the workers' family, and sometimes do not even take them into consideration. When the issue of unemployment and lay-offs arises, they try to ensure that they remain in work and that the women are dismissed, relying on the fact that women will not be able to resist because of their weak organisation and helplessness. When we women try to speak and prove to the men that they are not behaving properly, and that we should try to find a way out of the situation together, we are not allowed to speak and the men will not listen.”
There were attempts by some women activists to organise women. A few of them, notably, Kollontai, also thought seriously about the theoretical issues. This culminated in Kollontai's decision to intervene in the All Russian Women's Congress called by liberal bourgeois feminists. There was sharp resistance to this on the part of the party committee, and initially her attempt was through a few trade unions. A number of women activists, like the Bolshevik Slutskaya, were also opposed to this.  Nonetheless, Kollontai managed to organise a number of meetings of women workers, and turned the preparation for the Congress into a political struggle for those women. A 45 strong working class women delegation was organised. Volkova, speaking for them, told the assembled women that proletarian women's liberation could not be achieved without the struggle for socialism.  At the same time, Kollontai wrote a book, The Social Basis of the Woman Question. This book had a dual purpose. On one hand she wanted to differentiate the struggles of working class women from bourgeois feminism. This side of her aim has always been highlighted.  But her own autobiography makes it clear that she was also criticising the lack of gender sensitivity in the Social Democratic party.  The book made questions of sexuality a political issue. She argued that the contemporary class-state was the defender of legal marriage and the family, so there could be no real women's liberation within the existing state structure. Motherhood and the duties of child rearing must fall on society collectively, something possible only in a future socialist society. She also stressed the need to redefine socialism.
On relationship with the feminists, the handling was more nuanced than one would suppose from the more propagandistic recent works. Certainly, the socialists saw a gulf between themselves and the liberal feminists, and envisioned no lasting collaboration. They also made strenuous efforts to mark out the differences. Thus, the period when radicals were influential in the German feminist movement saw Zetkin writing about the differences between socialist women and the liberals in a much sharper way. For the same reason, Kollontai and the working-class women took a "disruptive" attitude to the Women's conference of 1908, particularly criticising the expensive banquet in the evening. The point is clear, when class polarisation sharpens, sisterhood becomes an ineffectual slogan. Conflict in the conference had ranged over every class demand -- even as innocuous as the demand for sickness benefit.
At the same time, there were instances of occasional collaboration. Clara Zetkin used to regularly report on the activities of the liberal feminists in Die Gleichheit. Bebel's idea, that despite class differences, women across classes might strike together, was not rejected. But the suffrage question brought about a sharper split. Bourgeois feminists and some opportunist socialists wanted a "possible " slogan --i.e., votes for women on the same terms as men, instead of the impossible demand of votes for all adult men and women. Zetkin and the left wing of the socialist women reacted sharply to this. At two International Socialist Women's Conferences in Stuttgart and Copenhagen, the issue was thrashed out. The German left, the Russians, and other left-wingers argued that restricted votes for women  (as demanded, for example, by Austrian Social democrats) was a call to neutralise working men's votes through bourgeois women's votes, and it was the left which pushed through the call for international mobilisations for suffrage for all.
A notable debate took place in the 1890s. Bourgeois feminists had drafted an appeal to the Kaiser for the right to form associations. The SPD daily, Vorwarts endorsed it. Zetkin also printed the appeal, but called on working class women not to sign it, because a humble appeal was not the proletarian form of struggle. She wanted rights to be wrested, not begged. This was a class issue, and the  "sectarianism" of Zetkin actually a sound attempt to point out that bourgeois feminism, even when it raises legitimate demands, adopts tactics that weaken the class struggle of the proletariat.  In addition, she pointed out that the appeal referred to associations being formed by bourgeois women for their aims, while the lack of references to economic struggles meant that the organisation of working class women was being ignored.

Class and Gender:

The socialists of the period under discussion never thought of themselves as feminists, so they did not set out from the beginning with the aim of redefining class, etc. But they were concerned about bringing more women into the party. Out of this attempt, however, there developed concepts of class struggle which wanted to avoid turning socialism into a purely male discourse. In the case of Clara Zetkin, this led her, in 1889, into the original position that socialists should fight for the abolition of exploitation over all, but not for special protectionist measures for women. By 1896, however, (the year when she gave a major speech on the subject of women workers and the struggle of the socialists, and when the SPD adopted a programme for women) she had changed her position. She was arguing that capital's right to exploit all, and the workers' freedom to starve, were the only rights upheld if "protectionism" was rejected.
The struggles in Germany and Russia went quite a distance in gendering the concept of class. In her 1896 speech Zetkin said: "The incorporation of the great masses of proletarian women in the liberation struggle of the proletariat is one of the prerequisites for the victory of the Socialist idea and for the construction of a Socialist society." In the 1896 speech she was to say, concerning the family, that socialist propaganda must not alienate the proletarian women from their duties as mothers and wives. "Many a mother and many a wife who fills her husband and children with class-consciousness accomplishes just as much as the female comrades that we see at our meetings. (Vivid agreement)"  The vivid agreement recorded by the minutes gives the show away. The socialist men wanted the prime function of women to be family functions. Women who succeeded in overcoming their double burden and attended socialist programmes were being put in their place by being told that they were not contributing any more than did wives and mothers. In the Russian case, likewise, even Kollontai, after calling for the socialisation of housework, went on assuming that this task, though now a public and paid work, would be  (naturally?) performed by the women. 
Finally, we should note that it was the left wing everywhere that fought hardest to accommodate gender issues. It was the German left, which kept alive the struggle for the suffrage, though when the suffrage came, that was as a bid to stall the take over of power by workers councils. When the revolutionary activist Kurt Eisener demanded the continuation of the rule of the councils, an SPD leader opposed him on the ground that this would deny the women their votes, since the councils were almost exclusively male.  The women's suffrage now became a fig leaf to hide the SPD's betrayal of the German revolution. In the Russian case, too, the Bolshevik party was more flexible than the rest of the workers' movement.  Though in 1917 only three women entered the Central committee, Kollontai's nomination to the programme sub-committee was an acknowledgement that women had as much ability as men to think about Marxist theory. Compared to other proletarian social and political institutions, including soviets and factory councils, women had better representation in the party hierarchy. Data on 159 Bolshevichki from Evans Clements' study shows where they were located in the year 1917. 50.9% worked directly for the party and its institutions, 2.5% were in the trade unions, and 31.4% in the local soviets. Another set of information, covering 182 women, shows that 2.8% of them were members of raion or city Duma (municipal organisation), and 6.5% of raion, city or guberniia soviet executive committees, but 37.3% of them were in raion, city or uezd party committees. 
At the end, it is necessary to say that the struggle and the lessons drawn from it convinced the left wing women, and to a certain extent the left wing Marxist forces as a whole, of the need for a discursive shift that would take into account the experiences and the demands of the women, their struggles and their aspirations; and it was also felt that not to do so would mean ignoring a large part of the class. Without pretending those achievements to be ideal, one has to recognise how far working class women were set back by the twin regressions of social democracy and Stalinism. It has been only after the rise of Second Wave feminism, and after a painful process of adjusting that feminist critique to Marxism, that Marxist women have been able to proceed theoretically beyond that point. In terms of building organisations and developing a collective organisational perspective, the SPD experience, despite its limitations, remains the greatest mass working class women’s movement.