On the PFF and the Oppression of Women

This document was submitted to the Fourth Congress of the PCR-RCP in November 2016 by some comrades from the FFPR Montreal. While it was rejected at the Congress, we republish it here to give context for the ongoing line struggle.
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The analysis of the specific oppression of women is historically crossed, in theory and practice, by two irreconcilable conceptual currents: the materialist current and the post-modern current (queer). These two currents do not identify the same social contradiction at the root of women’s oppression: materialists highlight the contradiction between men and women, while queer feminists consider the contradiction between the individuals who perform gender normatively and individuals who perform gender in a transgressive manner.

Proletarian feminism is a theoretical and practical materialist framework. However, as Marxists, proletarian feminists do not address the oppression of women from the same analytical framework as that used by radical materialists feminists, which conceived the contradiction man / woman as a relationship between a exploited class and an exploiting class. On the contrary, proletarian feminists believe that women’s oppression does not benefit men as a whole, but rather it benefits the ruling class, and that the contradiction man / woman is subordinated to the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie.

The Proletarian Feminist Front (PFF) adopts a proletarian feminist conception of the oppression experienced by women. The existence of this small movement generated by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), based on the firm belief that the seizure of power by the working class cannot occur without the participation and the leadership of women, who make up the majority of the working class, and that women’s liberation is inseparable from the socialist revolution.

These arguments will be developed in the arguments below. First, radical materialist feminist conceptions will be considered and opposed to postmodern conceptions (queer). Then the proletarian materialist feminism – which, being materialistic, also rejects queer conceptions – will be distinguished from materialist radical feminism. Finally, once the theoretical foundations of the proletarian feminism will be exposed, the purpose and the tasks of PFF be recalled.

A) Radical Materialist Feminism VS queer feminism

1. Radical materialist feminists as queer feminists reject “sexual difference” based on biological essentialism. In fact, science has shown that human behavior escapes the biological determinism, both at the neurological level and the hormonal levelI.

2. Radical materialist feminists, like the queer feminists, analyze gender as a social construction. But, the latter introduce the concept of gender, a heteronormative social construction that is superimposed on sex and, by extension, supplants it’s in their analysis. According to their understanding, gender is chosen individually and freely, either by accepting the binary standard, either by transgressing voluntarily this standard. This means that to be a man, a woman, or belong to a gender group that does not fall into this binary division, depends on agency.

3. On the contrary, radical materialist feminists believe that being a woman or being a man is the result of an inculcation made throughout life that is called socialization.

4. For radical materialist feminists, this socialization is the product of social gender relation, within which the class of men exploits the class of women. This operation is induced by the existence of patriarchy, understood as a mode of production.

5. For queer feminists, what determines gender identity is its performativity, that is to say, repeated practice of gender norms. Gender is not the product of a social relation, but rather a relationship of power. Indeed, in the post-modern paradigm, power is not concentrated in a class or in the state apparatus of this class. It is rather distributed diffusely across all institutions and individuals who make up society. Power is what both produces and represses subjects. For example, the heteronormative family is a unit of power that usually produces men and women called on to maintain heterosexual relationships, which traps these individuals in rigid gender roles of male and female. On the other hand, these individuals are in turn power units that choose to either comply with the standard or subvert it by transgressing the rules in order to transcend the repression of their own subjectivity. This last process is what is called agency or self-practice. For queer feminists, it is the study of the standard (the norm) that allows individuals to have a normative or transgressive performance of gender, regardless of the socialization to which they have been exposed.

6. Thus, queer feminists put the contradiction between the normative performance of gender (cisgender women and man, heterosexuals women and men) and the transgressive performance of gender (transgender women and men, queer, gay women and men, bisexuals, pansexual, non-binary people “gender neutrals”, “gender fluid” berdaches, drags, etc.)

7. For radical materialist feminist, the contradiction is rather between two separated and hierarchized social groups called man and woman. The perpetuation of male dominance is caused by a socially constructed order. They consider that the male / female division was established on the basis of the anatomical difference between the sexual organs as perceived at birth and reproductive functions (biological and social) that are distinct and systematically associated with them. The body is constructed by the social world as a gendered reality that finds its ideological justification “in the natural order of things.”

8. Radical materialist feminists believe that work is the main object of gender differentiation and prioritization. Indeed, it is the domestic work which is the economic and social base of the patriarchal oppression of women. The sexual division of labor organizes the distribution of wealth and social status in favor of men. For example, domestic work assigned to women is disqualified compared to paid work.

9. For queer feminists, labor is not the main object in the issue of the oppression of women, or rather, people oppressed by gender. For them, it is sexuality that is relevant. Here, sexuality includes the construction of gender identities which are indivisible of sexual orientation and sexual practices. Male domination, as social gender relation, is then replaced by the heteronormative prescription as gender power relation. In this sense, for the queer feminists, heteronormativity deletes natural similarities between individuals designated as male or female strength and forces the repression in men of their “feminine” traits and women, their “masculine” traits these traits (physical or behavioral) corresponding to the idea we have of what masculinity and femininity.

10. In contrast, radical materialist feminists, when they address the issue of sexuality, still analyzed it through the prism of the sexual division of labor. Sex is designed as a work done by women and owned by men. Femininity instilled as an expression of vulnerability and the subjugation of women in order to meet the sexual desires of men. With respect to heteronormativity, it derives from the sexual division of labor that assigns different tasks to men and women and who wants them to be “naturally complementary.”

11. While the radical materialist feminists want to abolish gendered roles established on a socially constructed binary, queer feminist favor the multiplication of categories of persons not covered by gender norms, and therefore the perpetuation of the differentiation that inevitably behind a hierarchy.

12. The radical materialist feminists do not linger in philosophical discourse on subjectization, but rather on the observation of social practices and material conditions in which women evolve.

13. For queer feminists, it is sufficient to define oneself and to have a constantly performed activity in correspondence with this self-identification to reverse the gender norm. This is an individualistic approach.

14. On the contrary, for radical materialist feminist, the class of women must collectively wage a political struggle against the class of men.

B) Proletarian materialist feminism VS Radical materialist feminism

i) Points of convergence

15. Proletarian feminism, as radical feminism, rejects queer theory because it derives from postmodernism. Its articulation with materialism cannot occur without tension because it is intrinsically idealistic. Materialists and postmodern approaches are, in many respects antagonistic. The Queer theoretical perspective is alien to Marxism and is expected to remain so because it is bourgeois.

16. Proletarian feminism, as radical feminism, identifies a contradiction between men and women, and rejects the idea of a contradiction between individuals with a gender normative performance and individuals with a transgressive gender performance. As radical feminism, proletarian feminism conceives gender as a social construction. The latter is generated by a differentiated and hierarchical socialization between men and women. Socialization is based on the appearance of the genitals observed at birth.

17. Proletarian feminism, as radical feminism, is interested in labor as being at the root of women’s oppression.

18. Finally, proletarian feminism, as radical feminism, pursues the goal of the abolition of gender roles, unlike queer feminism which by liberalism, calls for the proliferation of gender identities and individual freedom to choose one here and now.

ii) The divergence

19. The Radical feminist analysis as a whole, is not compatible with Marxism, because it conceives the present society as patriarchal, that is to say as being controlled by men as a whole, or at least, to be managed in the interest of all men. On the contrary, Proletarian feminism argues that the oppression of women, as important as it is, does not benefit the people as a whole, but to the bourgeoisie. If male dominance in society is undeniable, it is wrong to claim that all the men hold power.

20. Marxism analyzes the capitalist mode of production from the point of view of material interests of different classes. Radical materialist feminists wanted to give a materialistic basis, modeled on Marxism, to the theory of patriarchy by claiming that there is a domestic mode of production. All women, regardless of their class affiliation, constitute a single class including domestic work would be despoiled by the class of men.

21. Proletarian Feminists believe that the relationship between men and women cannot be considered analogous to the relationship between capitalists and workers. Exploitation and oppression are two different phenomena. Domestic work done by the proletarian women does not allow their proletarian comrades to accumulate capital. In wage labor, every minute saved by workers is a minute lost for the profits of the capitalists. In domestic work, men do not require of women to prepare more meals and do more laundry as they have the physical ability to do more. In wage labor, machines that could improve the lot of the workers but do not serve to increase profits are not introduced in the work process. In domestic work, the introduction of machinery and new products that improve women’s living conditions is not fought against by men. Time spent on education and care of children is not a job that benefits the proletarian men; the absence of a man does not reduce the workload of the many single mothers who raise their children alone. It is capitalism that imposes, by the privatization of this work, long grueling hours to women. Those who benefit from the work of women are the same who benefit from the work in general: the capitalists. This work of reproduction allows them to have workers fed, bleached and healthy, ready to get to work each day. The capitalists do not socialize all the work of reproduction because it would hurt their profits by causing considerable costs. To facilitate the reproduction of labor power, the bourgeoisie has retained an existing institution, the family – in which women were considered inferior – while transforming and subordinating its relations of production. Thus sexism is reproduced in the present society and generates inequalities between men and women, particularly with respect to the sharing of domestic tasks.

22. Some radical feminists do not separately analyze class relations and gender relations. But they analyze conjointly the individual interest of every man to be served at home by a woman and the collective interest of the ruling class to perpetuate the sexual division of labor – which assigns to women the majority of domestic duties and their extension in the wage world.

23. For proletarian feminists, domestic work does not represent an antagonism of interests between men and women of the working class. To be less exploited than women does not mean exploiting them. The proletarian men do not have a vested interest in maintaining the privatization of reproductive work. They would lose nothing with socializing this work.

24. Radical feminists argue that the patriarchal mode of production is also socially structuring, if not more than the capitalist mode of production. Proletarian feminists, as Marxists, believe that this analysis is wrong.

25. Indeed, one might say that the family, the root of domestic work, has the same historical weight, political and economic that the capitalist market? The market and the accumulation of capital done and redone and all aspects of the world in which we live; have caused wars and famines, literally transformed the landscape, created cities, destroyed and recreated monarchies, dictatorships, democracies; created the conditions for the mass entry of women in industrial work; created education and universities. The family did not have in world history this dynamic of progressive and in the same-time-that-destructive role. Rather, it is an institution that contributes strongly to the survival of capitalism, without constituting one of its reasons for being. The organization and carrying out of domestic tasks depend on the prior existence of industrial production, its products and its impact on the division of labor. When the needs of capitalist accumulation change, major changes may take place in the family, while the reverse is not true. The expanding capitalist economy needs the female workforce – and now millions of women join again the strength of labor. Capitalism needs a more educated workforce? – The children all go to school instead of going to the factory. In periods of crisis, it is even more striking. In peacetime, bourgeois ideology states that the family home is the only place where you can develop balanced human beings. Arrive a world war and capitalist send men per million in the killing fields and women by the millions to the factory to replace the work of men workers. The family as life is destroyed until the end of the war. In short, capitalism needs the family, but the family in last ultimately subordinated to it.II

26. Proletarian feminism, unlike radical feminism, analyzes the man / woman contradiction as a non-antagonistic secondary contradiction, a contradiction among the people. Proletarian feminism considers that the contradiction between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is the main social contradiction. The oppression of women is subordinate to the class struggle.

27. Unlike radical feminists, proletarian feminists therefore consider that there is no possible unity between the proletarian women and the bourgeois women, but there is one among the proletarian women and proletarian men, despite the persistence of sexist attitudes among the people. It is in the interests of the proletarian men to participate in the struggle against sexism and women’s oppression. In all countries, women make up a significant portion of the workers. The very idea that the proletariat can take power and leave in place the oppression of women is nonsense. This idea suggests that millions of workers, having engaged in a struggle without mercy to overthrow the bourgeoisie – struggle involving all the transformations of consciousness that arise from this kind of experience – subsequently decide to maintain the oppression of women. A takeover by the workers if the majority of the proletariat is ignored is not one. This does not mean that after the seizure of power, the millennia gender bias and contempt towards women will disappear suddenly. It only means that the elimination of the material basis of oppression, coupled with the revolutionary consciousness of millions of women and men, will weaken this oppression will begin its rapid decline to disposal.III

iii) For a proletarian feminist small-movement

28. PFF was formed on the basis of the recognition of the objective existence of a contradiction between men and women, and the need 1) to organize proletarian women for revolution, and 2) combating sexism now in order to form a genuine alliance between the men and women of the proletariat.

29. The fact that the PFF is for women – the oppressed group that justifies its existence – does not reproduce the oppression of minorities that are also oppressed,  categories that have a material existence in society (gay, trans people, racialized people, etc.), or whether strictly ideological categories, such as those advanced by the queer. The fact that only the word “women” is used in chapter 8 of the RCP program and in the Manifesto for a proletarian feminism is in nothing problematic. There is no need to add phrases from the queer feminism like “people oppressed by gender,” “non-binary people” or “non-male”. That would betray the mission of PFF. Indeed, queer feminism occults the oppression of women. It claims that by changing the words and ideas, we change the material world, denying that gender roles continue to exist objectively. The queer feminism, through the promotion of agency, ends up erasing the need for the collective struggle for emancipation of proletarian women.

30. Proletarian feminists recognize the objective existence of trans people, but understand their situation as being determined by the man / woman contradiction, and not an imaginary contradiction between normativity and gender transgression. Socialization engenders gender roles through all the ideological apparatus of the bourgeois society. However, this socialization is not performed consistently and uniformly on all individuals, since the pressure of the different social environments is not the same everywhere. Trans people do not violate or do not subvert gender or gender roles; they simply change sides. Note that men are also subject to the requirements of the roles associated with their dominant sex that was assigned at birth. This can cause serious malaise that can explain men transsexuality, causing them to expose themselves to gender-based violence experienced by women.

31. The oppression of trans people by supposedly cisgenderIV women is a divisive invention of the bourgeoisie. Even a woman who would match perfectly the female gendered roles would still be a dominated woman who would not have chosen her sex, but for which society would have assigned one that would maintain her in a inferior position. That said, there are no women or men in perfect correspondence with the gender roles incumbent on sex because sex is socially constructed.

32. This to say that the PFF considers the oppression experienced by trans people and homosexuals, while conceiving these oppressions as arising from the contradiction between men and women. Homophobia and transphobia are extensions of sexism.

33. PFF says that the revolutionary organizations and the revolutionary people must also act against the effects of the oppression of women in daily or organizational life.

34. In conclusion, the PFF advocates for the emancipation from the sexualisation of bodies and gender roles that result from it. Communist classless society will be marked by genuine equality among individuals who will not be placed in categories of sex and will be able to freely express their preferences.

35. The RCP, as communist vanguard, gives to proletarian women’s movements (against sexual exploitation, sexism, etc.) its full support, while placing this support in a political work to make these movements aware of their natural surroundings – that is class struggle – and thus to qualify them for the revolutionary struggle.V What should be the attitude of the communist vanguard vis-à-vis the bourgeois and petty bourgeois feminism, queer feminism and radical feminism? An uncompromising criticism of their anti-proletarian character.

PFF Comrades from Montréal

NOTES:

I.    We rely on the writings of theorists like: Catherine Vidal, Joëlle Wiels, Gaid Le Maner-Idrissi, Pascal Picq, IE Sommer et al, KM Bishop and D. Walhsten, SJ Gould, D. Benoît-Browaeys, etc.

II.     Extracted almost entirely taken from the text “Do we live in a patriarchal society? Who benefits oppression? “By John Mullen.

III.     Idem.

IV.    According to queer feminism, cisgender people are those whose gender identity matches the gender that was assigned at birth based on the appearance of their genitals. In other words, it is the great majority of individuals.

V.    Excerpt almost entirely with the text “La flèche et la cible” by the prisoner’s collective of the Fighting Communist Cells (CCC).

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