Marxism and the Women’s Question

Comrades Gonzalo's and Norah's work on the fundamentals of proletarian feminism.

Proletarians of all countries, unite!


Abimael «Gonzalo» Guzmán
Augusta «Norah» la Torre
April 1975

People‘s Women‘s Movement
Lima 1976

Reproduced by
The Red Flag

This document lays down the foundations of proletarian feminism, that is, the marxist position on the women‘s question. It was co-written by Comrade Gonzalo and Comrade Norah (his wife) and its 2nd Edition was published as a document of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Peru under the title «Marxism, Mariátegui and the Women‘s Movement» in April 1975 by the People‘s Women‘s Movement — the generated organization of the Party for its work among women. This is an excerpt of the first chapter of that work, which deals with the marxist position on the women‘s question in general. The second and third parts, which deal with the thought of J. C. Mariátegui on the women‘s question, have not been included.


The women‘s question is an important question for the people‘s struggle and its importance is greater today because actions are intensifying which tend to mobilize women; a necessary and fruitful mobilization from the working-class world outlook and in the service of the masses of the people, but which promoted by and for the benefit of the exploiting classes, acts as an element which divides and fetters the people‘s struggle.

In this new period of politicization of the masses of women in which we now evolve, with its basis in a greater economic participation by women in the country, it is indispensable to pay serious attention to the woman question as regards study and research, political incorporation and consistent organizing work. A task which demands keeping in mind Mariátegui‘si thesis which teaches that:

«No one should be surprised that all women do not come together in a single feminist movement. Feminism has, necessarily, several colors, several tendencies. One can distinguish in feminism three fundamental tendencies, three substantive colors: bourgeois feminism, small-bourgeois feminism and proletarian feminism. Each of these feminisms formulates its demands in a different way. The bourgeois woman solidarizes her feminism with the interests of the conservative class. The proletarian woman consubstantiates her feminism with the faith of the revolutionary multitudes in the future society. The class struggle — historical fact and not theoretical assertion — is reflected on the feminist level. Women, like men, are reactionaries, Centrists or revolutionaries. They cannot therefore all fight the same battle side by side. In today‘s human panorama, class differentiates the individual more than sexii

That way, from the beginning, the need to understand the women‘s question scientifically doubtlessly demands that we start from the marxist world outlook of the working class.


Through the centuries the exploiting classes have sustained and imposed the pseudo-theory of the «deficient female nature», that has served to justify the oppression which up to now women experience in societies in which exploitation continues to prevail. That way, the Jewish men‘s prayer: «Blessed be God, our Lord and Lord of all the worlds, for not having made me a woman», and conformity by the Jewish women who pray: «Blessed be the Lord who has created me according to his will», clearly express the contempt the ancient world had for the woman‘s condition. These ideas also predominated in Greek slave society; the famous Pythagorasiii said: «There is a good principle which has created order, light and man and there is a bad principle which has created chaos, darkness and woman»; and even the great philosopher Aristotleiv pronounced: «The female is female by virtue of certain qualitative fault», and «The character of women suffers from a natural defect.»

These proposals passed on to the final period of Roman slave society and to the Middle Ages, the contempt for woman intensifying in Christian thinkers by imputing her with being the source of sin and the waiting room of hell. Tertullianv claimed: «Woman, you are the door of the devil. You have persuaded him whom the devil did not dare to attack frontally. By your fault the son of God had to die; you should always go dressed in mourning and rags»; and Augustine of Hippovi: «The woman is a beast who is neither firm nor stable.» While these condemned, others passed sentence on female inferiority and obedience; thus Paul of Tarsusvii, the apostle, preached: «Man was not taken from woman but woman from man»; and «Just as the Church is subject to Christ, let woman be submitted in all things to her husband.» And hundreds of years later, in the 13th century, Thomas Aquinasviii followed with similar preaching: «Man is the head of the woman, just as Christ is the head of man», and: «It is a fact that woman is destined to live under the authority of man and that she has no authority by herself.»

The understanding of the female condition did not progress much with the development of capitalism, since while Condorcetix pointed out its social root when he said: «It has been said that women […] lack a sense of justice, and that they obeyed their feelings rather than their conscience […] that difference has been caused by education and social existence, not by nature», and the great materialist Diderotx wrote: «I feel sorry for you women», and «In all customs the cruelty of civil laws joined the cruelty of nature against women. They have been treated as imbeciles»; Rousseauxi, advanced ideologist of the French revolution insisted: «All education of women must be relative to that of men […]. Woman is made to yield to man and endure his injustices.» This bourgeois position is carried on to the age of imperialism, becoming more reactionary as time goes on; which, joined to Christian positions, and reiterating old theses sanctioned through John 23: «God and nature have given women various chores which perfect and complement the chores entrusted to men.»

That way we see how throughout time the exploiting classes have preached the «deficient female nature». Sustaining themselves in idealist concepts they have reiterated the existence of a «female nature» independent of social conditions, which is part of the anti-scientific «human nature» thesis; but this so-called «female nature», eternal and invariable essence, is also called «deficient» to show that the condition of women and their oppression and patronage is the result of their «natural inferiority compared to men». With this pseudo-theory it is intended to maintain and «justify» the submission of women.

Finally, it is convenient to point out that even an outstanding materialist thinker like Democritusxii had prejudices with respect to women («A woman familiar with logic: a fearful thing»; «Woman is much more prone than the male to think evil»). And that the defense of women is based in metaphysical or religious arguments (Eve means life and Adam means land; created after man, woman was finished better than him). Even the bourgeoisie, when it was a revolutionary class, only conceived of women in reference to men, not as independent beings.


The development of capitalism is to incorporate women into labor, providing the basis and conditions for them to develop; that way, with their incorporation into the productive process, women will have the chance of more directly joining the class struggle and combative action. Capitalism carried out the bourgeois revolutions, and in this forge, the female masses, especially working women, advanced.

The French revolution — the most advanced one of those directed by the bourgeoisie — was a great nourishment for feminist action. Women got mobilized together with the masses, and participating in the civic clubs, they developed revolutionary actions. In these struggles they organized a Society of Revolutionary and Republican Women, and through Olympe de Gougesxiii, in 1789 they demanded a «Declaration of the Rights of Woman» and created newspapers like The Impatient to demand improvements in their condition. In the development of the revolutionary process women won the suppression of the rights of the first-born male and the abolition of the male privileges, and they also obtained equal rights of succession with males and achieved the right to divorce. Their militant participation rendered some fruits.

But once the great revolutionary push was halted, women were denied access to the political clubs, their politicization was suppressed and they saw themselves blamed and urged to return to the home, they were told: «Since when have women been allowed to renounce their sex and become men? Nature has told woman: be a woman. Your chores are to tend to infants, the details of the home and the diverse challenges of motherhood.» Even more, with bourgeois reorganization initiated by Napoléonxiv, with the Civil Code, a married woman returned to be subject to patronage, falling under her husband‘s domain in her person and goods; she is denied the questioning of paternity. Married women, like prostitutes, lose their civil rights, and they are denied divorce and the right to transfer their property.

In the French revolution we can already see clearly how the advance of women and their setbacks are linked to the advances and setbacks of the people and the revolution. This is an important lesson: The identity of interests of the feminist movement and the people‘s struggle, how the former is part of the latter.

This bourgeois revolution also shows how the ideas about women follow a process similar to the political process; once the revolutionary upsurge was fought and halted, reactionary ideas about women reemerged. Bonaldxv maintained: «Man is to woman as woman is to child»; Comtexvi, considered the «father of sociology», proposed that femaleness is a sort of continued infancy and that this biological infancy is expressed as intellectual weakness; Balzacxvii wrote: «The destiny of women and their only glory is to make the hearts of men beat. The woman is a property acquired by contract, a mobile personal property, because the possession is worth a title; in all, speaking properly, woman is but an annex to man.» All this reactionary ideology is synthesized in the following words by Napoléon: «Nature wanted for women to be our slaves […]. They are our property […]; woman is but a machine to produce children»; a character for whom female life should be oriented by «Kitchen, Church, Children», a slogan endorsed by Hitler in this century.

The French revolution raised its three principles of liberty, equality and fraternity and promised justice and to meet the demands of the people. Very soon it showed its limits and that its principled declarations were but formal declarations, at the same time its class interests were counterpoised to those of the masses; misery, hunger and injustice kept on prevailing, just under new forms. Against such an order of things the utopians launched themselves with a sharp and demolishing criticism although, due to historic conditions, they could not reach the root of the evil. Utopian socialists also condemned the condition of women under capitalism. Fourierxviii, representing this position, pointed out: «The change of an historical age can always be determined by the progress of women […] the degree of emancipation of woman constitutes the natural path for general emancipation.»

Confronted with this great assertion it‘s worth counterpoising the thought of the anarchist Proudhon about women, and keep in mind his ideas when there are attempts today to propagate anarchism to the four winds, presenting them as examples of revolutionary vision and consequence. Proudhon maintained that woman was inferior to man physically, intellectually and morally, and that represented together numerically, women have a value of 8/27 the value of man. So for this hero, a woman represents less than 1/3 of the value of a man; which is but an expression of the small-bourgeois thought of its author, a root common to all anarchists.

Throughout the 19th century, with their increasing incorporation into the productive process, women continued to develop their struggle for their own demands joining the workers‘ unions and revolutionary movements of the proletariat. An example of this participation was Louise Michelxix, a fighter at the Paris Commune of 1871. But the feminist movement in general oriented itself towards suffragism, to the struggle to get the right to vote for women , in pursuit of the false idea that in getting the vote and parliamentary positions their rights would be respected; that way feminist actions were channeled towards parliamentary cretinism. However it is good to remember that the vote was not achieved for free but that during the last century and the start of this century women fought openly and resolutely to get it. The struggle for the female vote and its achievement show once more that, while this indeed was a conquest, it is not the means allowing a genuine transformation of the condition of women.

The 20th century implies a greater development of feminist economic action, women workers increase massively, as well as women employees, to whom are added strong contingents of professionals; women enter into all fields of activity. In this process the world wars have great importance because they incorporated millions of women into the economy to substitute for the men mobilized to the front. All this pushed the mobilization, organization and politicization of women; and starting from the 1950s the feminist struggle starts again with greater force, amplified in the 1960s with great perspectives for the future.

In conclusion, through the economic incorporation of women, capitalism set the basis for their economic autonomy; but capitalism by itself is not capable of giving formal legal equality to women; in no way can it emancipate them; this has been proven throughout the history of the bourgeoisie, a class which even in its most advanced revolution, the French revolution of the 18th century, could not go further than a merely formal declaration of rights. Further on, the later development of the bourgeois revolutionary processes and the 20th century show not only that the bourgeoisie is incapable emancipating the masses of women, but with the development of imperialism the bourgeois world outlook as regards the female condition becomes more reactionary as time goes on and in fact confirms the social, economic, political and ideological oppression of women, even if it disguises and paints it in myriad ways.



Marxism, the ideology of the working class, conceives the human being as a set of social relations that change as a function of the social process. Thus, marxism is absolutely opposed to the thesis of «human nature» as an eternal, immutable reality outside the frame of social conditions; this thesis belongs to idealism and reaction. The marxist position also implies the overcoming of mechanical materialism (of the old materialists, before Marx and Engels) who were incapable of understanding the historical social character of the human being as a transformer of reality, so irrationally it had to rely on metaphysical or spiritual conditions, such as the case of Feuerbach.

Just as marxism considers the human being as a concrete reality historically generated by society, it does not accept either the thesis of «female nature», which is but a complement of so-called «human nature» and therefore a reiteration that woman has an eternal and unchanging nature; aggravated, as we saw, because what idealism and reaction understand by «female nature» is a «deficient and inferior nature» compared to man.

For marxism, women, as much as men, are but a set of social relations, historically adapted and changing as a function of the changes of society in its development process. Woman then is a social product, and her transformation demands the transformation of society.

When marxism focuses on the women‘s question, therefore, it does so from a materialist and dialectical viewpoint, from a scientific world outlook which indeed allows a complete understanding. In the study, research and understanding of women and their condition, marxism treats the women‘s question with respect to property, family and State, since throughout history the condition and historical place of women is intimately linked to those three factors.

An extraordinary example of concrete analysis of the woman question, from this viewpoint, is seen in «The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State» by Friedrich Engels, who, pointing to the substitution of mother-right by father-right as the start of the submission of women, wrote:

«Thus, on the one hand, in proportion as wealth increased, it made the man‘s position in the family more important than the woman‘s, and on the other hand created an impulse to exploit this strengthened position in order to overthrow, in favor of his children, the traditional order of inheritance.


For this revolution — one of the most decisive ever experienced by humanity — could take place without disturbing a single one of the living members of a gens. All could remain as they were. A simple decree sufficed that in the future the offspring of the male members should remain within the gens, but that of the female should be excluded by being transferred to the gens of their father. The reckoning of descent in the female line and the matriarchal law of inheritance were thereby overthrown, and the male line of descent and the paternal law of inheritance were substituted for them. As to how and when this revolution took place among civilized peoples, we have no knowledge. It falls entirely within prehistoric times.


The overthrow of mother-right was the world-historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.»xx (Our emphasis.)

This paragraph by Engels sets the fundamental thesis of marxism about the women‘s question: the condition of women is sustained in property relations, in the form of ownership exercised over the means of production and in the relations of production arising from them. This thesis of marxism is extremely important because it establishes that the oppression attached to the female condition has as its roots the formation, appearance and development of the right to ownership over the means of production, and therefore that its emancipation is linked to the destruction of said right. It is indispensable, in order to have a marxist understanding of the women‘s question, to start from this great thesis, and more than ever today when supposed revolutionaries and even self-proclaimed marxists pretend to have female oppression arising not from the formation and appearance of private property but from the simple division of labor as a function of sex which had attributed less important chores to women than those of men, reducing them to the sphere of the home. This proposal, despite all the propaganda and efforts to present it as revolutionary, is but the substitution for the marxist position on the emancipation of women, with bourgeois proposals which in essence are but variations of the supposed immutable «female nature».

Developing this materialist-dialectical starting point, Engels teaches how on this basis the monogamous family was instituted, about which he says:

«It was the first form of the family to be based, not on natural, but on economic conditions — on the victory of private property over primitive, natural communal property.


Thus when monogamous marriage first makes its appearance in history, it is not as the reconciliation of man and woman, still less as the highest form of such a reconciliation. Quite the contrary. Monogamous marriage comes on the scene as the subjugation of the one sex by the other; it announces a struggle between the sexes unknown throughout the whole previous prehistoric period.»xxi

After establishing that private property sustains the monogamous family form, which sanctions the oppression of women, Engels establishes the correspondence of the three fundamental forms of marriage with the three great stages of human evolution:

«We thus have three main forms of marriage which correspond broadly to the three main stages of human development. For the period of savagery, group marriage; for barbarism, pairing marriage; for civilization, monogamy, supplemented by adultery and prostitution.»xxii

That way the marxist classics developed the thesis about the historically variable social condition of woman and her place in society; pointing out how the female condition is intimately linked with private property, the family and the State, which is the apparatus that legalizes such relations and imposes and sustains them by force.

This scientific proposition systematized by Engels is a product of the marxist analysis of the condition of women throughout history, and the most elementary study fully corroborates the accuracy and actuality of these proposals, which are the foundation and starting point of the working class for the understanding of the women‘s question. Let‘s make an historical recount allowing us to illustrate what Engels and the classics set forth.

In the primitive community, with a natural division of labor based on age and sex, men and women developed their lives on a spontaneous equality and participation of women in the social group decisions; later on women were surrounded with respect and consideration, a deferential and even privileged treatment. Once riches began to grow, which heightened the position of men in the family, pushing forward the substitution of father-right for mother-right, women began to move to the background and their position deteriorated; echoes of this reach the times of the great Greek tragic Aeschillusxxiii, who, in his work «The Eumenides», wrote: «It is not mother who engenders that which is called her son; she is only the nurse of the embryo deposited in her womb. Who engenders is the father. The woman receives the seed as a foreign depository, and she preserves it if so pleases the gods.»

Thus, in Greek slave society the condition of women is that of submission, social inferiority and object of contempt. Of them it is said: «The slave absolutely lacks of the freedom to deliberate; woman has it but in a weak and inefficient manner» (Aristotle); «The best woman is that of whom men speak the least» (Periclesxxiv); and the answer by the husband who investigates public affairs: «It‘s not your thing. Shut up lest I hit you […] Keep on weaving.» (Aristophanesxxv, «Lysistrata».) What reality is entailed by these words? Women in Greece were kept as perpetual minors; under the power of their tutor, whether the father, the husband, the husband‘s heir or the State, their lives passed under constant tutelage. They were provided a marriage dowry so they had something on which to live and did not go hungry, and in some cases they were authorized to divorce; for the rest, they were reduced to misogynism in the home and in society under the control of specialized authorities. Women could inherit when there was no direct male heir, in which case they had to marry the oldest relative within the paternal gens; that way they would not inherit directly but were merely conveyors of inheritance; all to preserve the family property.

The condition of women in Rome, also a slave society, allows a better understanding of it as derived from property, the family and the State. After the reign of Tarquiniusxxvi and once father-right was set up, private property, and therefore the family (gens), became the basis of society: women would remain subject to patrimony and the family. They were excluded from every «virile job», and in public affairs they were «legal minors»; they are not directly denied inheritance, but are subject to tutelage. On this point said Gaiusxxvii, the Roman jurist: «Tutelage was established in the interest of the tutors themselves, so the woman of whom they are supposed heirs cannot wrest their willed inheritance from them, nor impoverish it by alienation or debts.» The patrimonial root of the tutelage imposed upon women was therefore clearly exposed and established.

After the 12 Tablesxxviii, the fact that women belonged to the paternal gens and to the conjugal gens (also strictly for reasons of safeguarding property) generated conflicts which were the basis for the advancement of the Roman «legal emancipation». The sine manu marriagexxix appears: her goods remain dependent on her tutors and her husband only acquires rights over her person, and at that shared with the pater familias [father of the family], who retains an absolute authority over his daughter. And the domestic tribunal appears, to resolve discrepancies which may arise between father and husband; that way the woman can appeal to her father for disagreements with her husband, and the other way around: «It no longer is the matter of the individual.»

On this economic basis (her participation in the inheritance even if tutored), and the conflict between the rights of the paternal and conjugal gens for the woman and her goods, a major participation of Roman women in their society develops, despite the legal restrictions: the atrium is set up, the center of the house, which governs work by the slaves, conducts education of the children and influences them until a rather advanced age. She shares the works and problems of her spouse and is considered coproprietor of his goods. She attends parties and on the street she is given preferential crossing, even by consuls and magistrates. The weight of Roman women in their society is reflected by the figure of Corneliaxxx, mother of the Gracchixxxi.

With Roman social development, the State displaces the contention among the gens and assumes the disputes about women, divorce, adultery, and so on, which went to be heard in public tribunals, abolishing the domestic tribunal. Later on, under imperial rule, tutelage on women will be abolished, answering to social and economic demands. Women get a fixed dowry (individual patrimony) which does not return to the agnates (parental relatives) nor belongs to the husband; that way she is given an economic base for her independence and development. By the end of the Republic mothers had been given recognized rights over their children, receiving custody of them due to the father‘s misconduct or his being placed under tutelage.

Under emperor Marcus Aureliusxxxii, in the year 178, a great step is taken in the process of property and family: children are declared heir to their mother in preference to agnates; that way the family is based on a link of consanguinity and the mother emerges as equal to the father before the children, the children also are recognized as children of the wife and, derived from the above, the daughter inherits just as her male siblings.

But while the State «emancipates» women from the family, it submits them to its tutelage and restricts their acts. And simultaneously to the social rise of women, an anti-female campaign was initiated in Rome invoking their inferiority and invoking their «imbecility and fragility of the sex» to legally reduce them.

In Rome then, socially women had it better than in Greece and acquired respect and even great influence in social life, as shown by the words of Catoxxxiii: «Everywhere men govern women, and we, who govern all men, are governed by our women.» Roman history has outstanding exalted women, from the Sabinesxxxiv, through Lucretiaxxxv and Verginiaxxxvi to Cornelia. Criticisms of women, not as women but as contemporaries, developed by the end of the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D.; in this way Juvenalxxxvii reproaches them: lasciviousness, gluttony, to dedicate themselves to manly occupations and their passion for hunting and sports.

Roman society recognized some rights of women, especially the right to property, but did not open to them civil activities and much less public affairs, activities which they developed «clandestinely» and in a restricted way; for that reason Roman matrons («having lost their ancient virtues») tended to seek other fields in which to employ their energies.

In the decline of slavery and the development of feudalism, to consider the female situation one must keep in mind the influence of Christianity and the Germanic contribution. Christianity contributed quite a bit to the oppression of women; among the Church fathers there is a definite demeaning of women, whom they consider inferior, servants of men and sources of evil. To what has been said, let‘s add the condemnation by St. John Chrysostomxxxviii, a saint of the Catholic Church: «No savage beast is as damaging as woman.» Under this influence the advances reached under Roman legislation are at first mitigated and later on denied.

Germanic societies based on war gave women a secondary situation due to their smaller physical strength; however they were respected and had rights which made them an associate of their spouse. Let‘s remember that on this subject Tacitusxxxix wrote: «In peace and in war she shares his luck; she lives with him and dies with him.»

Christianity and Germanic culture influenced the condition of women under feudalism. Women were in a situation of absolute dependence with respect to the father and husband; by the times of King Clovisxl «the Mundxli weighs over her during all her life». Women developed their lives completely submitted to the feudal lord, although protected by the laws «as property of man and mother of children»; her value increases with fertility, being worth triple the value of a free man, a value she loses when she can no longer bear offspring: woman is a reproductive womb.

As happened in Rome, also under feudalism we see an evolution in the condition of women, in function of the curbing of feudal powers and the increase of royal powers: the Mund is transferred from the lords to the king; the Mund becomes a burden for the tutor, yet the submission by tutelage is kept.

At the convulsive times when feudalism was formed the condition of women was uncertain; since the rights to sovereignty and property, public and private, were not well specified, the condition of women was changing and heightened or lowered according to social contingencies.

First they were denied private rights, because women had no public rights. Until the 11th century force and arms impose order and sustain property directly: to jurists, a fiefdom «is a land possessed with charge of military service», and women could not have feudal right since they could not defend it with arms nor render military service. When fiefdoms turn into patrimonies and are inheritable (according to Germanic norms women could also inherit), female succession is admitted; but this does not improve their condition: woman is just an instrument through whom dominion is transferred, as in Greece.

Feudal property is not familial as in Rome, but of the sovereign, of the lord, and women too belong to the lord; it is him who chooses her husband. As it was written: «An heiress is a land and a castle: suitors contended to dispute that prize, and often the young woman is only 12 years old, or younger, when her father or lord gives her as prize to any baron.» The woman needs a lord who «protects» her and her rights; thus a Duchess of Burgundy proclaimed to the King: «My husband has just died, but what good is mourning […]? Find me a husband who is powerful, because I much need him to defend my lands.» In this form her spouse had great marital power over the woman, whom he treated without consideration, mistreating her, beating her, and so on, and whose only obligation was to «punish her reasonably», the same some codes required today to correct children.

The prevailing warlike conception made the medieval knight pay more attention to his horses than to his wife, and the lords preached: «Damned be the knight that seeks advice from a woman when he should participate in a tournament.» While women were commanded: «Get into your apartments, painted and gilded; sit in the shade, drink, eat, weave, tint the silk, but bother not with our affairs. Our affairs are to fight with sword and steel. Silence!» That is how the medieval world of the lords demeaned and cast their women away.

The 13th century saw the development of a movement of literary women, which traveling from south to north increased their prestige; the same one which was linked to chivalry, love and the intense worship of the Virgin Mary of that era. It did not modify it deeply, as Simone de Beauvoirxlii said in «The Second Sex», a book in which abundant information about the history of women is found; useful data, of course, aside from the existentialist world outlook of its author, since it is not ideas which fundamentally change the condition of women, but the economic basis sustaining it. When the fiefdom goes from a right based on military service to an economic obligation, we see an improvement in the condition of women, since they are perfectly capable of fulfilling a monetary obligation; that way the «right of the first night» is suppressed and women‘s tutelage is extinguished.

In this way, whether single or widowed, women have the same rights as men; in possessing a fiefdom she governs it and fulfills its administrative duties and even commands its defense, participating in battles. But feudal society, like all those based on exploitation, requires the submission of women in marriage, and marital power survives: «The husband is the tutor of the wife», is preached; or as Beauvoir said: «As soon as marriage was consummated, the goods of one and the other are common by virtue of the marriage», justifying marital tutelage.

In feudal society, as in others ruled by exploiters, slavery or capitalism, what has been described about the condition of women has governed and governs; but we must highlight that only in the condition of poor women can we see a different and softer condition in the face of marital power; the root of this situation must be seen in the economic participation by women of the people‘s classes and in the absence of great riches.

The development of capitalism takes feudalism to its decomposition, a situation which impresses its marks on the condition of women, as we have seen already. It suffices to emphasize that in the beginning and development of the cities, women took part in the election of deputies to the Estates General; which shows female political participation, as well as the existence of rights over family goods, since the husband could not alienate real properties without the consent of the wife. However, absolutist legislation will soon fetter these norms to fight off the diffusion of the bad bourgeois example.

This historical exposition exemplifies the thesis by Engels and the classics on the social roots of the condition of women and its relationship to property, family and State, it helps us to understand its certainty and see its actuality more clearly. All this carries us to a conclusion, the need to firmly adhere to the working-class positions and apply them to understand the women‘s question, participate in its solution, and reject, constantly and decisively, the distortions of marxist theses on the subject and the so-called superior developments, which are but attempts to substitute bourgeois ideas for proletarian concepts on this front, to disorient the women‘s movement on the march.

Having exposed the social condition of women and the historical outline of its development linked to property, family and State, what remains is to treat the question of the emancipation of women from a Marxist viewpoint.


Marxism fundamentally holds that the development of machinery incorporates women, as well as children, into the productive process, thereby multiplying the number of hands to be exploited, destroying the working class family, physically degenerating women and materially and morally sinking them into the miseries of exploitation.

Analyzing women and children at work Karl Marx wrote:

«In so far as machinery dispenses with muscular power, it becomes a means of employing labourers of slight muscular strength, and those whose bodily development is incomplete, but whose limbs are all the more supple. The labour of women and children was, therefore, the first thing sought for by capitalists who used machinery. That mighty substitute for labour and labourers was forthwith changed into a means for increasing the number of wage-labourers by enrolling, under the direct sway of capital, every member of the worker‘s family, without distinction of age or sex. Compulsory work for the capitalist usurped the place, not only of the children‘s play, but also of free labour at home within moderate limits for the support of the family.

The value of labour-power was determined, not only by the labour-time necessary to maintain the individual adult labourer, but also by that necessary to maintain his family. Machinery, by throwing every member of that family on to the labour-market, spreads the value of the man‘s labour-power over his whole family. It thus depreciates his labour-power.


Thus we see that machinery, while augmenting the human material that forms the main object of capital‘s exploiting power, at the same time raises the degree of exploitation.


By the excessive addition of women and children to the ranks of the workers, machinery at last breaks down the resistance which the male operatives in the manufacturing period continued to oppose to the despotism of capital.»xliii

Continuing his masterful analysis, Marx himself describes to us how capitalism uses even the virtues and obligations of women for its advantage:

«‹Mr. E., a manufacturer […] informed me that he employed females exclusively at his power-looms […] gives a decided preference to married females, especially those who have families at home dependent on them for support; they are attentive, docile, more so than unmarried females, and are compelled to use their utmost exertions to procure the necessaries of life. Thus are the virtues, the peculiar virtues of the female character to be perverted to her injury — thus all that is most dutiful and tender in her nature is made a means of her bondage and suffering.»xliv

But just as by incorporating women into production capitalism increased exploitation, simultaneously with this process it provides the material basis for women to struggle and demand their rights, and it‘s a starting point for the struggle for their emancipation; since as Engels taught in «The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State»:

«The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time. And only now has that become possible through modern large-scale industry, which does not merely permit of the employment of female labor over a wide range, but positively demands it, while it also tends towards ending private domestic labor by changing it more and more into a public industry.»xlv

And evidently capitalism, with its own future interests, set the basis for the future emancipation of women, as well as creating the class that will destroy it as it develops: the proletariat.


On the other hand, their economic participation and the development of the class struggle pushes forward the politicization of women. We already highlighted how the French revolution pushed forward the political and organizational development of women and how, by uniting them, mobilizing them and forcing them to fight, it laid the basis for the feminist movement; we also saw how feminist demands were reached through the rise of revolution, and how their rights were abolished and their conquests were swept away when the revolutionary process was fettered and thrown back. However, with all the positive aspects that the incorporation of women into the French revolution had, the resulting politicization of women was but elementary, restricted and very small compared to the major advance represented by the politicization of women by the working classes. What does this politicization imply? When capitalism massively incorporates women into the economic process, it wrest them away from inside of the home, to attract them mostly to factory exploitation, making industrial workers out of them; that way women are forged and developed as an integral part of the most advanced and latest class in history; women initiate their radical process of politicization through their incorporation into the trade-union struggle (the great change implied by this is observed concretely in our country by the transformation seen in women workers, peasants and teachers of Peru, amidst the union struggle). A woman arrives at more advanced forms of organization, which goes on building her up and shaping her ideologically for the proletarian world outlook, and finally she arrives at superior forms of struggle and political organization by incorporating herself, through her best representatives, into the ranks of the Party of the working class, to serve the people in all forms and fronts of struggle organized and directed by the working class through its political vanguard. This politicization process which only the proletariat is capable of producing and the new type of women fighters it generates has materialized in the many glorious women fighters whose names are recorded in history: Louise Michel, Nadezhda Krupskayaxlvi, Rosa Luxemburgxlvii, Liu Hulanxlviii and others whose memory the people and the proletariat keep.

For marxism yesterday as today, the politicization of women is the key issue in their emancipation, and the classics dedicated special attention to it. Marx taught:

«Anybody who knows anything of history knows that great social changes are impossible without the feminine ferment. Social progress can be measured exactly by the social position of the fair sex (the ugly ones included).»xlix

And for Lenin the participation of women was more much urgent and important to the revolution:

«The experience of all liberation movements has shown that the success of a revolution depends on how much the women take part in it.»l

Thus the development of the class struggle and its ever greater sharpening, within the specific social conditions of the revolutionary struggle under conditions of imperialism, sets forth and demands more decisively the politicization of women; that is why Lenin himself, in the middle of the 1st World War and foreseeing future battles for the working class which required preparedness, called to fight for:

«Abolition of all restrictions without exception on the political rights of women compared with those of men. It must be explained to the masses why this reform is particularly urgent at the present time, when the war and the high cost of living are agitating the minds of the broad masses and, in particular, are rousing the interest and the attention of women towards politics.»li

And he proposed:

«Our ideological conceptions give rise to principles of organisation. No special organisations for women. A woman communist is a member of the Party just as a man communist, with equal rights and duties. There can be no difference of opinion on that score. Nevertheless, we must not close our eyes to the fact that the Party must have bodies, working groups, commissions, committees, bureaus or whatever you like, whose particular duty it is to arouse the masses of women workers, to bring them into contact with the Party, and to keep them under Its influence. That, of course, involves systematic work among them. We must train those whom we arouse and win, and equip them for the proletarian class struggle under the directorship of the Communist Party. I am thinking not only of proletarian women, whether they work in the factory or at home. The poor peasant women, the small bourgeois — they, too, are the prey of capitalism, and more so than ever since the war.»lii

With those words Lenin demanded the politicization of women, the struggle for demanding their political rights, the need to explain to the masses the urgency of politically incorporating women, the need of working together with them, to educate them, organize them and prepare them for all forms of struggle; finally, he emphasized orienting themselves towards working women; but without forgetting the importance of peasant women and remembering the various classes or layers of women being exploited, since all of them could and should be mobilized for the people‘s struggle.

From the above we see how the politicization of women was proposed by marxism from its beginnings, considering women‘s struggles as being in solidarity with the struggles of the working class; that is why last century Bebel said: «Woman and the worker have in common their condition as oppressed», and why the Socialist Congress of 1889 proclaimed the equality of the sexes and the need to struggle for it, reiterating the solidarity of the revolutionary feminist women and the working class struggle. Or as China proclaims today, following Mao Zedong‘s thesis:

«Women comprise one half of the population. The economic status of working women and the fact of their being specially oppressed prove not only that women urgently need revolution but also that they are a decisive force in the success or failure of the revolution.»liii


This brings us to consider how the emancipation of women can be achieved. Investigating capitalist society and societies in general where exploitation and oppression prevail, Engels verified that misery, inequality and submission exist among humans, and emphasizing the woman question he pointed out:

«As regards the legal equality of husband and wife in marriage, the position is no better. The legal inequality of the two partners, bequeathed to us from earlier social conditions, is not the cause but the effect of the economic oppression of the woman.»liv

And he continued:

«We can already see from this that to emancipate woman and make her the equal of the man is and remains an impossibility so long as the woman is shut out from social productive labor and restricted to private domestic labor. The emancipation of woman will only be possible when woman can take part in production on a large, social scale, and domestic work no longer claims anything but an insignificant amount of her time. And only now has that become possible through modern large-scale industry, which does not merely permit of the employment of female labor over a wide range, but positively demands it, while it also tends towards ending private domestic labor by changing it more and more into a public industry.»lv

This assertion by Engels, taken out of context and unrelated to similar ones from «The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State», helps some people, pseudo-marxists and distorters of marxism, stretching his ideas, to claim that the mere participation of women in the economic process is sufficient for their emancipation. Engels proposed that the incorporation of women into production was a condition, that it is a basis upon which women act in favor of their emancipation, and that this demands to socially end domestic work which absorbs and annihilates women, which to Engels implies destroying private ownership of the means of production and developing large-scale production based on the social ownership of the productive means. We repeat that it is good to be very clear about this thesis by Engels, because today some attempt to hide themselves in this classic to distort the marxist position on the women‘s question and preach, for the sake of the exploiting classes, on the plain and simple participation of women in the economic process, hiding the root of women‘s oppression which is private ownership and sidestepping large-scale social production based on destroying private property of the means of production.

Foreseeing this distortion, as in other cases, the classics analyzed the problem of whether the incorporation of women to the productive process, which capitalism began, was capable of making men and women truly equal. The concise and powerful answer was given once more by Mao Zedong in the 1950s:

«Genuine equality between the sexes can only be realized in the process of the socialist transformation of society as a wholelvi

Lenin researched the situation of women in bourgeois society and compared it with how it was under the dictatorship of the proletariat; an analysis which led him to establish:

«Participants in all emancipation movements in Western Europe have long since, not for decades but for centuries, put forward the demand that obsolete laws be annulled and women and men be made equal by law, but none of the democratic European States, none of the most advanced republics have succeeded in putting it into effect, because wherever there is capitalism, wherever there is private property in land and factories, wherever the power of capital is preserved, the men retain their privileges.


Council power, the power of the working people, in the first months of its existence effected a very definite revolution in legislation that concerns women. Nothing whatever is left in the Council Republic of those laws that put women in a subordinate position. I am speaking specifically of those laws that took advantage of the weaker position of women and put them in a position of inequality and often, even, in a humiliating position, that is, the laws on divorce and on children born out of wedlock and on the right of a woman to summon the father of a child for maintenance.»lvii

From this comparative analysis the conclusion is taken that only the revolution which places the working class in power in alliance with the peasantry is capable of sanctioning the true judicial legal equality between men and women, and even further, of enforcing it. However, as Lenin himself taught, this true legal equality initiated by the revolution is but the beginning of a protracted struggle for the full and complete equality in life of men and women:

«But the more thoroughly we have cleared the ground of the lumber of the old, bourgeois laws and institutions, the clearer it is to us that we have only cleared the ground to build on but are not yet building.

Notwithstanding all the laws emancipating woman, she continues to be a domestic slave, because petty housework crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades her, chains her to the kitchen and the nursery, and she wastes her labour on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking, stultifying and crushing drudgery. The real emancipation of women, real communism, will begin only where and when an all-out struggle begins (directed by the proletariat wielding the State power) against this petty housekeeping, or rather when its wholesale transformation into a large-scale socialist economy begins.»lviii

Thus Lenin and Mao Zedong answered the anticipated opportunist distortions and pseudo-developments of marxism which today attempts to distort the theses of Engels and confuse the working-class position on the women‘s question.

Marxism conceives the struggle for the emancipation of women as a protracted but victorious struggle:

«It is a long struggle, requiring a radical remaking both of social technique and of customs. But this struggle will end with the complete triumph of communism.»lix

The above, in essence, shows there is an identity of struggle between the revolutionary feminist movement and the working class struggle for the construction of a new society; and, besides, it helps to understand the sense of Lenin‘s words calling women workers to develop the institutions and means which the revolution placed at their disposal:

«We say that the emancipation of the workers must be effected by the workers themselves, and in exactly the same way the emancipation of working women is a matter for the working women themselveslx (Our emphasis.)

These are the central theses of marxism on the emancipation, politicization and the condition of women; positions which we prefer to transcribe for the most by quotations from the classics, because these positions are not sufficiently known, and besides that because they were masterfully and concisely expressed by the authors themselves, which relieves us from the task of pretending to give them new editing, more so after seeing their full and complete actuality. On the other hand, the distortions of the marxist positions attempted today on the woman question also demand the dissemination of the words of the classics themselves.

Finally, it is indispensable, even if only in passing, to make note that Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao Zedong set forth the thesis of the emancipation of women and not that of women‘s liberation, as can be appreciated from the cited quotations. On this particular, it suffices to say that the analysis of the condition of woman through history shows her as subject to tutelage and in a situation of submission with respect to the male, which makes woman a being who, while belonging to the same class as her husband or the man she has a relationship with, finds herself in a situation of inferiority with respect to him, an inferiority which the laws bless, sanctify and impose. Consistent with this situation of undervaluing throughout history we see the need to demand her rights to achieve a formal equality with man under capitalism, and how only the revolutionary struggle under the directorship of the proletariat is capable of setting up and fulfilling a genuine legal equality of men and women, though, as we saw, plentiful equality in life, as Lenin said, will develop as large-scale socialist production develops. These simple observations show the certainty of the thesis on women‘s emancipation conceived as part of the liberation of the proletariat. While the thesis of women‘s liberation historically surfaces as a bourgeois thesis, hidden at the bottom of which is the counterpoising of men and women due to sex and camouflaging the root of the oppression of women, today we see how women‘s liberation is exposed more each day as bourgeois feminism, which aims at dividing the people‘s movement by separating the feminine masses from it and seeking mainly to oppose the development of the women‘s movement under the directorship and guidance of the working class.

i José Carlos Mariátegui (1894-1930) was a Peruvian communist leader who founded the Communist Party of Peru on 07.10.1928. He thoroughly analyzed Peruvian and Latin American society, founded the General Confederation of Trade Unions of Peru and is considered to have been one of the greatest marxist theoreticians in history.

ii J. C. Mariátegui: «The Feminist Demands» (19.12.1924)

iii Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570-495 B.C.) was an ancient Ionian Greek philosopher who influenced the development of the doctrines of Plato and Aristotle.

iv Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) was an ancient Greek philosopher. He was taught by Plato and founded Western philosophy through the synthesis of previous Greek philosophers.

v Tertullian (c. 155-220) was an early Christian philosopher from the Roman province of Africa. He is considered the founder of Western theology.

vi Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430) was one of the fathers of the Christian Church, who influenced the development of Western philosophy and theology.

vii Saint Paul the Apostle (c. 5-64/67), born Saul of Tarsus, was the main representative of the second generation of Christian apostles, who spread Christianity across the Middle East during the 1st century.

viii Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) was an Italian theologist and the founder of Catholic theology and philosophy. He attempted a synthesis of Aristotle with Catholic theology.

ix Marie Jean Antoine Nicolas de Caritat, Marquis of Condorcet (1743-94) was a French bourgeois-democratic philosopher and mathematician. He died in prison after fleeing from the French revolution.

x Denis Diderot (1713-84) was a French bourgeois-democratic philosopher and pioneer of modern materialist philosophy.

xi Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-78) was a Swiss bourgeois-democratic philosopher and leader of the Enlightenment movement.

xii Democritus (c. 460-370 B.C.) was an ancient Greek materialist philosopher and democrat. After his death, the reactionary philosopher Plato decreed that all his works should be burned.

xiii Olympe de Gouges (1748-93), born Marie Gouze, was a French bourgeois-democratic revolutionary who advocated women‘s emancipation and the abolition of slavery. She was the author of the «Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen» (1791). She was executed during the Great French Revolution for her anti-patriarchal activity.

xiv Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), born Napoleone di Buonaparte and later crowned Napoleon the 1st, was the military dictator of France after the Great French Revolution and during the Napoleonic Wars. Under his rule, the bourgeois-democratic revolution was extended to most of Europe by military means, but he was ultimately crushed by an alliance of the reactionary European States, giving way to the French Restoration of 1815-30.

xv Louis Gabriel Ambroise, Vice-Count of Bonald (1754-1840) was a French counter-revolutionary philosopher, politician and sociologist.

xvi Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte (1798-1857) was a French philosopher and writer and the founder of positivism and modern sociology.

xvii Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), born Honoré Balzac, was a French novelist and playwright during the periods of Restoration and the July Monarchy in France.

xviii François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837) was a French utopian socialist and philosopher. Together with Robert Owen and Henri de Saint-Simon, he is considered one of the three great utopian-socialist thinkers of the 19th century.

xix Louise Michel (1830-1905) was one of the leaders of the Paris Commune of 1871. She was elected the head of the Women‘s Vigilance Committee and encouraged the communards to attack the counter-revolutionary government of Thiers at Versailles. She fought on the Parisian streets and organized hospitals during the Bloody Week of May 1871. After the Commune, she was deported to Kanaky (New Caledonia).

xx Friedrich Engels: «The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State» (March-May 1884)

xxi Ibid.

xxii Ibid.

xxiii Aeschylus (c. 525/24-456/55 B.C.) was an ancient Greek playwright who is considered the father of tragedy.

xxiv Pericles (c. 495-429 B.C.) was an ancient Greek politician and general in Athens during the period of the Greco-Persian Wars.

xxv Aristophanes (c. 446-386 B.C.) was an ancient Greek playwright who is considered the father of comedy.

xxvi Lucius Tarquinius Priscus (reigned c. 616-578 B.C.) was the fifth legendary King of Rome.

xxvii Gaius (130-80) was a Roman jurist who was posthumously considered the greatest authority on Roman Law.

xxviii The Laws of the 12 Tables was the foundation of Roman Law. The Tables were promulgated in 449 B.C. and consolidated earlier, non-written codes of law in ancient Rome. The Tables stated the rights and duties of the Roman citizen.

xxix The manus marriage in ancient Rome constituted the two forms of legal marriage. A cum manu marriage was one in which the woman was subjected to the legal authority of her husband. A sine manu marriage was one in which the women was subjected to the legal authority of her father. It became the dominant form of marriage in Rome.

xxx Cornelia (c. 190s-115 B.C.) was an ancient Roman female politician, the daughter of Scipio Africanus and the mother of the Gracchi brothers.

xxxi Tiberius Gracchus and Gaius Gracchus were ancient Roman tribunes of the plebs between 133 and 121 B.C. They carried out a series of reforms in order to distribute the land held by the slave-owning class to the landless peasants. They were both assassinated by the slave-owner faction of the Roman government in 121 B.C.

xxxii Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-80) was Emperor of Rome from 161 to 180 and a Stoic philosopher.

xxxiii Marcus Pontius Cato the Younger (95-46 B.C.) was a conservative Roman senator during the Roman Republic‘s final years.

xxxiv The Sabines were an Italic tribe which was absorbed into Rome at its founding. In ancient Roman mythology, the young men of Rome carried out a mass abduction of Sabine women to populate Rome. When the Sabines went to war against Rome, the Sabine women, led by Hersilia, threw themselves inbetween the two armies to stop the war.

xxxv Lucretia (-510 B.C.) was an ancient Roman noblewoman. She was raped by the heir to the Kingdom of Rome and thereafter committed suicide. Her suicide sparked the mass rebellion which led to the end of monarchy in Rome and the installation of the Republic of Rome.

xxxvi Verginia (c. 465-449 B.C.) was an ancient Roman plebeian, whose abduction and murder led to mass rebellions, causing the downfall of a clique of Roman dictators and the reestablishment of the Republic of Rome.

xxxvii Decimus Junius Juvenalis (c. 1st and 2nd centuries) was an ancient Roman poet and satirist.

xxxviii Saint John Crysostom (c. 347-407) was a Church father who served as the Archbishop of Constantinople from 397 to 403.

xxxix Publius Cornelius Tacitus (c. 56-120) was a Roman historian and politician.

xl King Clovis the 1st of Francia (c. 466-511) was the first Frankish king to unite all the Frankish tribes under one State. He founded the Merovingian Dynasty. He ruled as King of the Franks from 481 to c. 509.

xli The Mund or mundium was a principle in the Germanic legal tradition, which means «protection». It represents the protection by and service of the patriarch, be it in the family or in the State.

xlii Simone Lucie Ernestine Marie Bertrand de Beauvoir (1908-86) was a French small-bourgeois feminist and philosopher, who together with her partner Jean-Paul Sartre represented the Left-existentialist trend in French thought in the 20th century. During the 1968 movement, she and her partner supported the emergent French maoist movement.

xliii Karl Marx: «Capital», Volume One (1867)

xliv Ibid.

xlv Friedrich Engels: «The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State» (March-May 1884)

xlvi Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaya (1869-1939) was a founder and leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, a marxist-leninist theoretician and the wife of V. I. Lenin.

xlvii Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a founder and leader of the Communist Party of Germany and the German revolution of 1918-19. Together with Karl Liebknecht, she fought revisionism inside the Social-Democratic Party of Germany and agitated against the imperialist 1st World War. In December 1918, they founded the Communist Party. In January 1919, they were both murdered by the fascist Free Corps at the orders of the social-democratic government of Germany.

xlviii Liu Hulan (1932-47) was a Chinese communist organizer during the Chinese revolution. She organized the masses, prepared materials for the Chinese People‘s Liberation Army and distributed secret messages. She was tortured to death by the Guomindang reactionaries because she refused to give up information about her comrades.

xlix Karl Marx: Letter to Ludwig Kugelmann (12.12.1868)

l V. I. Lenin: «Speech at the 1st All-Russian Congress of Working Women» (19.11.1918)

li V. I. Lenin: «The Tasks of the Left-Radicals (or the Left-Zimmerwaldists) in the Social-Democratic Party of Switzerland» (October-November 1916)

lii V. I. Lenin, quoted in Clara Zetkin: «My Recollections of Lenin» (January 1925)

liii Mao Zedong, quoted in Beijing Review, No. 10 of 1972.

liv Friedrich Engels: «The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State» (March-May 1884)

lv Ibid.

lvi Mao Zedong: «Editor‘s Notes from Socialist Upsurge in China‘s Countryside» (September-December 1955)

lvii V. I. Lenin: «The Tasks of the Working Women‘s Movement in the Council Republic» (23.09.1919)

lviii V. I. Lenin: «A Great Beginning» (28.06.1919)

lix V. I. Lenin: «On International Women‘s Day» (04.03.1920)

lx V. I. Lenin: «The Tasks of the Working Women‘s Movement in the Council Republic» (23.09.1919)