The Struggle for the Equality and Emancipation of Women
Seminar of Communist and Workers’ Parties, Brussels Opening Speech by Aleka Papariga, General Secretary, KKE
A hundred years have passed since the second International Conference ofsocialist women adopted the proposal of the German Clara Zetkin, one ofthe greatest personalities of women’s international labour revolutionary movement, on the celebration of the 8th March as the anniversary of working women’s sacrifice on 8th March 1857 in New York.
In our opinion, this year’s anniversary gives us a great chance to assess the role that the communist movement played in the struggle for gender equality, for the women’s emancipation in the course of a century. At the same time, it is urgent to discuss according to which strategy and tactic will we tackle with the deterioration of the women’sposition under the conditions of the capitalist crisis, as a special issue and integral element of the life of the worker’s families of the working people in general.
The national level continues to be the main field of the class struggle where the positive changes for the international correlation of forces take place. The internationalization of the field of struggle, the coordination and the advanced class solidarity are an equally important issue.
Furthermore, it constitutes an imperative duty as a big part of the modern capitalist countries are organically integrated to the regional imperialist interstate unions e.g. the EU while almost all capitalist countries are actually integrated to the imperialist system no matter if the have formal commitments or not, irrespectively of the level of development.
Crisis shows even more clearly the historical limits of the capitalist system. This is evident in all issues and in the women’s question as well.
The legal parity of women, the improvement of their educational level and a limited number of social foundations for family and children marked the end of the bourgeois progressivism. The capitalist system by law recognized officially the gender equality, it improved the family law and the law in general but it has been adamant and remains so towards the gender equality in life. Inequality remained in society and family to a great extent as well as in several professions and in the cultural superstructure. The mantle of law was removed and the despicable face of capitalism revealed.
Of course, we know that these assessments do not apply for all countries as in Africa, Asia and in other countries women suffer forms of oppression that date 100 or maybe 200 years back. This phenomenon marks the uneven development of capitalism and cannot be attributed to several cultural or traditional particularities of the so-called patriarchism or androcracy.
The capitalist system had no other choice especially in the more developed countries and continents of the imperialist pyramid. It made certain concessions in order to achieve the biggest possible exploitation of the women’s labour, as well as of youth’s and immigrants’, their political and social manipulation in the name of equality. It wanted women to be well-educated and not illiterate. The interests of the capitalist system demanded the women to have professional skills and not merely some skills for the needs of the household or a general education so as to be a desirable bride.
Thus, capitalism was forced to make some concessions despite its will and under the pressure of the labour, people’s and women’s movement that was emancipated from the influence of the few progressive bourgeois forces. The communist parties played a defining role in the development and strengthening of the organised women’s movement, in the promotion of women in the labour and people’s movement.
The capitalist system, the bourgeois governments also felt a strong pressure from the unprecedented gains of women in socialist countries. The bourgeois political parties realised that the women of the bourgeoisie should play a more essential role as regards the interests of the capital, and stop playing a cosmetic role, practicing merely public relations. Thus, they gave them an active political and social role so as to become MPs, ministers, even prime-ministers and presidents of republics, soldiers and generals with the aim to set the example for the women that belong to the working class and the popular strata, to substitute and manipulate them.
Nowadays, we are not witnessing only the abolition of our rights, or the deterioration of our life; we also face the danger of a dramatic increase in the gap between our contemporary needs and the situation that will be formed in the near future.
We do not underestimate the possibility of the worker’s and people’s movement to contribute, in alliance with the progressive women’s movement, to positive developments in the correlation of forces and therefore repel the new barbarous measures. Nevertheless, it is clear now that it is not possible to achieve gains as those achieved after the World War II in Europe, under favourable circumstances for capitalism, in a period that the socialist system exerted pressure on capitalism.
Despite the victory of the counterrevolution and the negative change in the correlation of forces, despite fatalism, the timeliness and necessity of socialism appear in all issues as well as in the women’s issue. Besides, the timely character of socialism is not determined by the correlation of forces but by the contradictions of the capitalist system that intensify.
Our duty is to highlight the timeliness of socialism, to serve with our strategy the objective of the communist party irrespectively of the level of the intensification of contradictions and the situation of the subjective factor. Of course the correlation of forces and the level of the consciousness require elaborating the appropriate tactic so as to serve the strategy as well as taking into account the difficulties though without submitting to them.
The experience of our party, both the past and the recent one, shows that there is no contradiction between the struggle for socialism on the one hand, and the urgent need to attract working, popular forces, both men and women to the organised class oriented struggle for their acute problems on the other. It has to do with the orientation, with the ability and the quality of the guidance so as to orient the daily struggle to the overthrow of monopolies state power, of the bourgeois political power in order for the people to become the owner of the wealth.
The exit from the capitalist crisis will either be in favour of the capitalist forces and the bourgeois political system or it will be followed by a change in the correlation of forces in favour of the people’s movement as well as by the maturation of the political consciousness for the change at the level of power. The second prospect requires a strategy that contributes to the sharpening of contradictions and not to the so called national consensus which is promoted by the ruling class and the bourgeois governments.
With our position about the formation of the anti-imperialist, anti-monopoly democratic front calling for the struggle for people’s power and economy we seek to create a socio-political alliance of forces that do not share our views on socialism and its construction but agree with the view that the struggle must lead to the overthrow of monopolies’ power.
The women’s question as a historical phenomenon constitutes a complex of economic, political and cultural inequalities and discriminations which are evident in all social relations including the relationships between the two genders and emanates from the class relations of exploitation. The founders of scientific socialism-communism, Marx and Engels, analysed the women’s question on its true basis; they proved its class nature, they showed its reflection in the legal, political, ideological, cultural superstructure of every exploitative socioeconomic system as well as the preconditions for its solution.
The women’s question objectively constitutes part of the contemporary strategy against the crisis that will lead, even after its overcoming, to a slight recovery compared to the past, to a new cycle of crisis under the conditions of acute intra-imperialist rivalries. In the framework of these rivalries new national centres, new -temporary- alliances emerge next to the centres established in the 20th century (EU, USA, Japan). Nevertheless, these forces operate as anti-axis towards the US, the EU etc intensifying the rivalries.
As you know Greece entered the cycle of the capitalist crisis a little bit later than the other countries. Nowadays, it literally finds itself in the turbulence of the crisis.
As in the last period the crisis of Greek capitalism has been on the top of the agenda in Eurozone; let me present some data so as to explain in which way capital utilises the attack on the working people and the women in order to overcome its crisis and increase its profit making.
In Greece the bourgeois parties and the opportunists present the crisis as a problem caused mainly by the bad management or as a result of the liberal management, of the lack of policies for the "regulation and control" of the markets turning a blind eye to the fact that the liberation of market was supported by the liberal and social democrat parties, by reformists and opportunists. Moreover, they make every effort to prevent the workers from realising that the crisis emanates from the very capitalist system and its contradictions and antithesis.
In Greece, as in all capitalist countries, there is a crisis of capital over accumulation, a decline in the GDP and an even worse forecast for the next two quarters. The negative change in manufacturing and the capital products also constitutes a serious problem. The devaluation of capital in all its forms (commercial, financial), the decline of investments, the increase of business closures and unemployment are a fact also in Greece. The outbreak of the crisis, as it happens under the conditions of capitalism, brought a decline in consumption as well as significant outflow of capital to Repurchase Agreement (Repo). This confirms that capital has no homeland or even better that its homeland is every land that offers better conditions for its profit making.
Official discussion in Greece and Eurozone focuses on the fiscal deficit and the public debt of the country, on the lending of the country at high interest rate due to unreliability. The indices in Greece are much more increased than that of the Stability Pact. On this basis people are literally brainwashed so as to believe that there is a Greek particularity due to bad management, corruption and the enormous waste of money compared to other EU member states that are not burdened with scandals and bribes. The liberal and social democrat party quarrel about management and scandals. Both exonerate the capitalist mode of production, the capitalist relations of production and the class reactionary character of the EU while the opportunist and ultra-right forces aid this misleading propaganda.
They systematically and deliberately abstract economy from politics so as to convince the people that there is a basis for the humanization of capitalism, for another recipe for the management of the system which can benefit capitalists and working class, monopolies and poor petit-bourgeois strata in town and village. Thus, discontent is growing but it might also be trapped into demands for a bourgeois management. The working women, the unemployed, the pensioners might be more confused due to their living conditions that reduce their ability to participate in the organised movement. Moreover, there is an effort to deepen the division of the working class accusing civil servants, including women, of having excessive gains.
The crisis in Greece is distorted and presented in a fragmented way so as to convince the working people to concede their last gains and accept the deterioration of their social and labour rights. This situation affects particularly the young women and those at the age of 45-50 who were employed in manufacturing sector, in agriculture and in social services that are in a process of privatization.
The questions "stabilization or development", "restrictive or expansionary policy" constitute two sides of the same coin, of the very path of capitalist development which is based on the safeguarding of the competitiveness of the big capital. These positions change merely the proportions in the management recipe though without changing the strategy.
Both in Europe and in Greece there is a conflict between the liberal and social democrat parties but also between these parties and the reformist opportunist forces about the so-called mixture of the policy against the crisis. They quarrel about which anti-people measures require priority, about whether the working people should pay the cost immediately or whether the anti-people measures should proceed in a longer period. However, they agree on state or European benefits to enterprises so as to increase their profits and allegedly proceed to the distribution of profits.
Our party has been ideologically and politically prepared to deal with the economic crisis as we had predicted the crisis a long before its outbreak and we had proceeded to the analysis of the situation of the Greek economy under the conditions of the integration to the EU.
We specified the consequences on women’s life and rights; we refuted with scientific arguments and studies the misleading propaganda arguing that equality entails the abolition of several gains that the working women achieved with struggles and sacrifices e.g. the 5 year difference in retirement age, several social infrastructure for children which are now privatized, the reduced working day, the maternity leave, the prohibition of night work for women workers in industry etc.
We refuted the EU misleading theories that gender equality means equality in all aspects of life. This position leads to the unjust and non scientific equation of the productivity of both genders, to the underestimation of maternity and its needs. We revealed the lies that women themselves demand part time and temporary employment and flexible working relations because they need time for their families.
We intervened on time through the independent activity of our party as well as through the labor and women’s movement, putting forward concrete demands and goals of struggle as well as a platform of demands that helps the popular forces to understand that the women’s issue constitutes a general problem of the people.
We utilized the 100th anniversary of the International Women’s Day for our ideological political intervention regarding the history and the class nature of the women’s issues as well its current dimensions under the conditions of the crisis.
On 8th March PAME and the Greek Women’s Federation organised a big demonstration in Athens as well as in many towns and cities. These demonstrations turn a new page in the alliance of the progressive labour and women’s movement.
We also unfolded a special work during the 5 successive strikes. This work must continue along with escalation of the struggle that should follow.
It has been a hard battle. Our demand that plutocracy must pay for the crisis and that the people should not pay even a single euro for the debts and the deficit exerts influence on broad non-communist forces. We highlighted the course of the development of the Greek capitalism; we explained what crisis is, what does exit from the crisis mean.
The drop in the industrial production, particularly in the manufacturing sector in Greece, as well as the problems in the agricultural production have not manifested during the crisis; they existed even when Greece had a high growth rate above the Eurozone average. The abolishment of workers and women’s conquests began in the 1990’s; significant workers and people’s rights were cut in periods of growth and high profit making when there was no sign of crisis. The large deficit and the high debt of Greece are not an unprecedented phenomenon.
Nevertheless, these specific indexes in Greece are more sharpened and combined. This derives from the adjustment of Greece to the EU, under conditions of liberalisation of the market, due to the unevenness that characterises the capitalist world, the imperialist pyramid. Despite the rise in productivity, the competitiveness of the Greek economy has fallen. In Greece also occurs the typical phenomenon that an important part of the capital continues being profitable while increases the tendency of concentration and centralisation of capital, changes the correlation of forces, the profit making and the competitiveness of monopolies in key sectors. It is also significant the fact that Greece is in a geographical region where is manifested greater sharpening of the intra-impehalist contradictions. The governments that emerged from the elections in Bulgaria and in our country are more favourable towards the US plans for the broader region.
The competition between the euro and the dollar has a special impact on Greece.
The antagonism between the European Union and the US is also manifested on the issue of the Aegean Sea, where probable existence of oil deposits intensifies the intervention of the imperialist centres in the region, uses the crisis and the need of the country to take loans. The PASOK government has made serious concessions that further affect the already ceded sovereign rights with unforeseen developments in the next years.
The exit from the crisis cannot be achieved without questioning the capitalist ownership and power. This does not mean that it’s worthless the movement to promote goals and demands that will rally forces in the struggle as was demonstrated by the great mobilisations in our country, profoundly marked by the action and positions of our party. However, the defence and some limited improvement can neither be the beginning nor the ending of the struggle. Moreover, it’s unrealistic to believe that the exit from the crisis can be fulfilled through a return to the past. It is necessary apart from the goals and demands of the struggle to determine the direction of the conflict with the monopolies and their power, the opposition to the capitalist system, to promote the necessity of socialism. Otherwise the movement will be encircled and assimilated.
The last 92 years KKE is striving systematically to organise the struggle for women’s question. It has seriously contributed to the development of women’s movement, to gain achievements, to the election of women in the party and movement’s organs; it has repelled bourgeois, reformist and neofeminist opportunist perceptions.
However, we have not managed yet to specify the work in women in every sector of the party and the movement, to face appositely the erroneous view that the women’s action, which has always been an important and relevant field of struggle, is a matter that solely concerns the women’s movement or individual women. The difficulty to specify the general policy of the party in women is not only manifested among male comrades but also among female comrades. The answer to this question cannot be the same as in the period when women suffered the heavy and depressive weight of the traditional perceptions on woman’s inferiority, on the exclusive role of woman as wife and mother.
The changes and the modernisation in the framework of the capitalist system that have taken place during the last hundred years, since when Clara Zetkin proposed the declaration of the International Woman’s Day, brought about contradictory results in women’s consciousness. Today more women and men have discarded some ideas that prevailed for 50 years; women’s way of living today has changed, it has become better. However, new problems as well as new needs have arisen.
It is true that we have not associated correctly the theoretical, educational and practical work, the relation between strategy and tactics on women’s question, because we have put relatively one-sided emphasis highlighting and dealing with certain issues. For this reason we have not managed to develop a solid base so that the popular masses with radical consciousness could understand the class character of the women’s question.
This derives from the fact that despite the correct general orientation this issue has not been clarified either within the ranks of the party. The Central Committee and the guidance bare responsibility for not having proceeded to the necessary work to the party organisations and the organs that guide them. The legal equality of women, their massive entrance in education and in relatively new sectors of work, the greater leeway in their personal life fosters illusions that this is equality or that nowadays the women’s question is not as acute as it was fifty or a hundred years ago.
Life contradicts these illusions. Today, young women at school, at the university do not encounter with visible obstacles in their personal relations. But even so they do not easily realise it. However, things change when the young woman looks for a job, makes her family and becomes a mother. At that time the class character of the inequalities and the gender discrimination becomes clear. This results in an obvious recession on women’s participation at a regular basis in the movement as well as in the difficulty to fulfil the multiple tasks of the party and KNE, even if the comrade husband assists her.
This issue cannot be dealt with at a strictly personal basis, nor is sufficient the appropriate propaganda for the participation of both genders to the upbringing and responsibilities of the family. The political problem plays a significant role; it hinders the spirit of equality to grow in personal relations, within the family. We refer to the concept of specification meaning that we should highlight that the enemy implements its strategy on every issue, including women’s question; thus the specification will be creative and at the same time incorporated in the general political line of the party, in its strategy.
OUR TASK TODAY
1. We should highlight the historical origins of radical women’s struggle, of the communist movement and the theory of scientific socialism. Without ideological counterattack today we will only have a few results. We should fight the ignorance in our ranks, especially the typical schematic knowledge, the shallow knowledge of the class nature of women’s question, and popularise our views.
The real history of the struggle for social equality of the two genders, for the equality between men and women did not begin when it was claimed the right to vote to women; not even from the most vanguard slogans of the first bourgeois women. It began when Marx made the greatest discovery; when he revealed the secret of the capitalist class exploitation, the extraction of the surplus value. It began when Engels described scientifically in the most vivid manner that the female gender began to experience inequality after the establishment of the first class based society, the slavery, and when he analysed the relation of private ownership with the state and family.
We should highlight the legacy of Leninist positions for the liberation of women from the class exploitation and the double oppression.
The founders of scientific socialism and socialist revolution underline the conditions in which the participation of women in the social work can be combined with motherhood without contradictions; in which women and the family will be relieved by the largest part of the heavy burden of domestic responsibilities that will become social work. Thus, women and men will work, will participate in the institutions of workers’ and social control, from the bottom up; they will have free time for the overall development of their interests and abilities, of the collective spirit and the communist internationalist solidarity.
In 1885 Engels argued:
"I must admit that I am more interested in the health of the coming generation than in the absolute equality of formal rights for the sexes during the last years of the capitalist mode of production. Real equality of rights for women and men can, in my opinion, become a fact only when the exploitation of both of them by the capital has been abolished and private house work has been transformed into public industry".
Is there a more vanguard, revolutionary view than the one implemented since the very first years of the socialist construction?
Not even the most enterprising bourgeois forces, reformists and opportunists would express such a view as regards the household.
2. We should highlight the conclusions of the history of the struggle for the emancipation of women. The struggle can bring results and also demonstrates the fact that no achievement is guaranteed, including the struggle of women as an integral part of the general workers and people’s struggle, unless this struggle succeeds, unless it overthrows the power of the monopolies, unless it reaches socialism; unless it ends with the victory of the working class and its allies. This victory signals a new beginning of the course for the construction of the new society that guarantees social equality, an equality that puts aside and abolishes any remnants of gender inequality, inequality between town and countryside, the prejudice based on nationality, religion, cultural and other differences.
We should highlight the historical achievements of women in the socialist countries that were incomparable with any conquest of women at that time in conditions of capitalism.
Workers’ power might have made mistakes but capitalism does not; capitalism commits crimes and that’s the big difference between them.
If we compare Russia at that time and today we shall see that since the very first years of the socialist construction and later on measures were taken so that when the family stayed at home its members could be devoted to the development of the relationship between them and have free creative time so that life at home would not be the continuation of work in the factory, in the enterprise.
No capitalist country -not even the most developed and rich- has developed such a broad, extensive network of social facilities, in that specific period, that primarily benefited women.
3. We should ensure that the women’s question constitutes an inextricable element of our work in all sectors, in the working class, the peasantry, the self-employed, in the education, health and environment sector, everywhere.
We intend the specification of our policy on women to have an impact on the labour movement, the self employed, the poor peasantry, the youth that belongs to the working class, on the popular strata. We should support the great contribution of women’s militant organisations and promote the formation of a single front of the popular movement with the participation of women’s movement whose contribution is and can be even stronger and more dynamic.
Underlying the class nature of the women’s question is the most appropriate way to confront any derogatory perceptions at the expense of women that still exist nowadays although under the mantle of modernism and cosmopolitism.
It contributes to the improvement of the interpersonal relations between the genders; it highlights the importance of the united common struggle; it responds to the reformist, opportunist and harmful views
-the so-called patriarchal and antidemocratic- that regard this issue as a contrast between the genders. Nevertheless, we do not say that the latter do not exist; erroneous views exist even among women. This requires correct politicisation of the issue, not to ease the political struggle, the political consciousness.
Our responsibility is to provide ideological and political support, take practical organisational measures, promote solidarity between the members of the communist family, the comrades, men and women, so that they keep up in the path of struggle, in the path of real life.
We ought to stand by the side of women, especially of those who experience greater pressure due to personal and family difficulties.
We propose to start exchanging experience in a more systematic way between our parties and others in order to specify our strategy on women, for the coordination and the reinforcement of the international radical women’s movement.
Allow me to comment two issues on the specification of our strategy on women and generally on the working class and the people.
The first issue concerns the struggle against the EU decisions that affect the Greek people and the peoples of Europe. In Greece the illusions that the participation in the EU keeps the country safe from economic and political risks, that it preserves its sovereign rights, impedes war and safeguards the borders. The general discontent derives from people’s experience, from the systematic enlightenment of our party, the only one that expresses the view that the progressive course and people’s welfare are incompatible with the participation in the EU and the NATO. However, this discontent is accompanied by a sense of fear to oppose to the EU decisions as well as to disengage from this union. This fear corroborates our view that the EU is not an alliance of voluntary integration of peoples; it’s rather an alliance that punishes and prosecutes when a people chooses a different path of development.
Nevertheless, despite the fear of the people to bring their struggle to the end namely to the solution, the fact that the vision of European Union has weakened to the eyes of the people and women is positive. As a result of the pressure that this tendency exerts, the opportunists in our country, that belong to the European Left Party (ELP), try to find ways to reverse this situation.
A part of these forces reproduce the fear for the consequences of rupture and disengagement while another part promotes the Utopian position to reconstruct the EU, to amend the Stability Pact, or even the hypocritical repentance for having supported the Maastricht Treaty and basic treaties for the integration. If we had fatally accepted the accession to the EU, if we had proclaimed it as a one-way road this hypocritical stance would not even exist. The movement, though, cannot be emancipated with hypocrisy and ambiguity.
From this point of view we consider that the policy and tactics of the ELP plays a damaging role mainly because it sets obstacles to the radicalisation, it assimilates and manipulates the emerging popular reaction. We believe that this period gives us the benefit to exert influence on the masses as regards the main issue, namely that there are two paths of development, two paths of internationalisation and international cooperation. The one is determined by the interests of the capital, of the monopolies and the other by the satisfaction of people’s needs. The two paths differ not only as regards the content and the direction of the development but also the question of the political power.
This question is vital also for the necessity of the struggle and rupture with the European Union, the disengagement. The struggle to repel negative consequences from the EU decisions which are commonly acknowledged is not effective because it is not possible to detach these consequences from the nature and character of the EU. The position for the disengagement can and must be supported by highlighting the possibilities of our country. We believe that all the countries have the strength to stand on their feet putting emphasis on the promotion of their potentialities for development which are undermined by the EU decisions.
Such a view does not entail any national isolation, negation of the international cooperation. On the contrary, it can ensure the utilisation of the intra-imperialist contradictions for international relations based on the mutual benefit. The expansion of the European Union has proved that the more countries are integrated, the more the unevenness and the internal conflict over the control of old and new markets for the benefit of the leading forces increase. This phenomenon cannot not be abolished, nor regulated; it’s a characteristic element of capitalism in its imperialist stage.
Another issue is the increasing involvement of Greece in the intra-imperialist antagonisms and their militarization. The government of PASOK has made further concessions to the US as well as to Germany and France with agreements for new offensive armament. The most important is that the government has agreed, as official articles imply, to accept the claims of the Turkish leadership in the Aegean and turn the whole disputed region into a NATO zone accessible neither by Turkish nor Greek military aircrafts. Of course this development is at the expense of our country and opposes the International law. It is a provocative concession that in the near or distant future is likely to cause war operations in the broader region. They concede territory and no one should feel relieved by the fact that it’s under the flag of NATO.
The question of non participation in occupation troops, in troops of intervention is a crucial issue not only because it places on us an economical burden, as is stated mainly by the opportunists in our country, but also because it entails the participation in an unjust war and in counterrevolutionary forces that will intervene in every country, against people that struggle for a different path of development against the monopolies and imperialism. These two aforementioned issues should be popularised broadly and to women as well.
Communist Party of Greece
March 29, 2010