Feminism and Socialism: putting the pieces together


Feminism and Socialism is a resolution adopted by the 14th National Conference of the Democratic Socialist Party held in January 1992. It is the latest of a series of resolutions adopted by the DSP, since its founding in 1972, analysing the nature of women's oppression, and the vital importance of the struggle against this oppression as part of the ongoing fight to achieve a socially just, democratic, and ecologically sustainable future for us all.

The DSP and its associated youth organisation, Resistance, came into existence out of the same struggles that led to the rise of the women's liberation movement in the early 1970s. A firm commitment to women's liberation has been integral to the building of the party over the last 20 years.

The DSP and Resistance have played their part in the struggles and campaigns of the movement-from the first Sydney women's liberation conference in January 1971 and the first big International Women's Day march in Melbourne 1972 to the IWD marches and the campaigns of today.

We have been involved in most of the major campaigns for women's rights over the past two decades-in the fight for women's control over their reproduction and fertility organised by the Women's Abortion Action Campaign; in struggles to get the trade union movement to take up working women's demands through the Working Women's Charter Campaign; and in struggles to break down sex segregation and discrimination in industry-for example, in the Jobs for Women Campaign which forced BHP to employ women in its Port Kembla and Newcastle steelworks and to pay compensation to the for its discriminatory hiring practices. This campaign established the first class action case in Australia.

We have struggled on the job for better wages and conditions for women; in the community against violence and rape, for better services for women; against discriminatory practices on all fronts-in education, jobs and in the community.

We have been part of the social and ideological struggle to free women from the narrow definition of their role as wives and mothers within the family. The ideological struggle has increasingly shifted into the realm of stereotyped images of women peddled by the media and advertising with their destructive impact on women's health, threatening their very lives. In part this fight has been to reassert positive self-definitions and images of women by women, as well as the struggle against censorship so that women can examine and explore their own bodies, their health, their fertility and their sexuality without accusations of obscenity and the consequent acts of repression.

Today the women's liberation movement is under attack as increasingly the media proclaims the end of feminism. Efforts to drive back women's rights, gained over the past twenty five years, gather momentum. Attacks on women's control over their fertility and their bodies, unequal wages, domestic violence and sexual abuse, lack of access to decent jobs and continued discriminatory practices are all part of what has been termed the "backlash" against the women's movement.

Feminists themselves are divided about which way to proceed-whether to go on the offensive, or simply defend the gains of the past-or even to sacrifice the needs of the great majority of women in order to preserve gains for a privileged few.

Calls for censorship to ban pornographic images, or for suppression of reproductive technology because it is a "male plot" to subvert women's unique creative function, are examples of the accommodation of some feminists to the right-wing "backlash." As a result of these views some feminists have lined up with the reactionary moralistic advocates of women's traditional roles of wife and mother, i.e., with those who have been the major opponents of any liberation for women.

This resolution advocates a very different strategy. It evaluates the state of women's rights and feminism today around the world-in the industrialised Western nations, the Third World, in the former Soviet bloc as well as Cuba and Central America, explaining women's oppression from a Marxist perspective. It outlines a strategy to protect today's gains and to build an inclusive women's liberation movement that can win new ground.

The basic outlook of the document is simple and clear. It explains women's oppression as a product of class society. This oppression will only be ended when we get rid of all the vestiges of class society. The struggle projected is a united one. It is not the struggle of women against men as their oppressors, but a struggle against the oppression and exploitation of class society.

The document asserts that unless feminism develops a strategy of building alliances with other sections of the oppressed and exploited it will not be capable of eradicating the basis of women's oppression.

Pat Brewer,

September 1992