The Proletarian Woman
The day of the proletarian woman opens the Week of Social Democracy. The party of the disinherited places its female column in the vanguard, while it sets off to the strenuous week's work, in order to sow the seeds of socialism on pastures new. And the call for equal political rights for women is the demand raised while setting out to recruit new layers of supporters for the demands of the whole working class.
The modern wage-earning proletarian woman thus today enters the public stage as the champion of the working class and at the same time of the whole female sex, the first time for thousands of years.
From time immemorial the women of the people have worked hard. In the primitive horde she carried loads, gathered provisions; in the primitive village she planted grain and milled it, and made pottery; in ancient times she served the ruling class as a slave and suckled their offspring at her breast; in the Middle Ages she laboured at the spindle for the feudal lord. But for so long as private property has existed, the woman of the people generally works separated from the large workplace of social production, and therefore from culture, cooped up in the domestic confines of an impoverished household existence. Only capitalism has torn her out of the family and clamped her under the yoke of social production, driven onto alien fields, into workshops, onto construction sites, into offices, into factories and warehouses. As a bourgeois woman, the female is a parasite on society, her function consists only in consuming the fruits of exploitation; as a petit bourgeois woman she is a beast of burden of the family. Only as a modern proletarian do woman become human beings, for only struggle makes the individual contribute to cultural work, and to the history of humanity.
For the propertied bourgeois woman her house is the world. For the proletarian woman the whole world is her house, the world with its sorrow and its joy, with its cold cruelty and its brutal size. The proletarian woman travels with the tunnel workers from Italy to Switzerland, camps in their shacks and sings while drying her baby's laundry, beside dynamited rocks hurled into the air. As a seasonal land worker she sits in the din of railway stations on her modest bundle, with a scarf covering her simply-parted hair, and waits patiently to be relocated from east to west. Between decks on the transatlantic steamer she migrates with every wave that washes the misery of the crisis from Europe to America, in the motley multilingual crowd of starving proletarians, so, when the backwash of an American crisis froths up, she returns to the misery of the European homeland, to new hopes and disappointments, to a new hunt for work and bread.
The bourgeois woman has no real interest in political rights, because she exercises no economic function in society, because she enjoys the finished fruits of class rule. The demand for equal women's rights is, where it arises with bourgeois women, the pure ideology of weak groups of individuals, without material roots, a phantom of the contrast between woman and man, a quirk. Thence the farcical character of the suffragette movement.
The Proletarian woman needs political rights, because she exercises the same economic function in society, slaves away in the same way for capital, maintains the state in just the same way, is sucked dry and held down in just the same way as the male proletarian. She has the same interests and needs the same weapons in her defence. Her political demands are rooted deep in the social abyss which separates the class of the exploited from the class of the exploiters, not in the contrast between man and woman, but in the contrast between capital and labour.
Formally the political rights of the woman are accomodated quite harmoniously in the bourgeois state. The example of Finland, the American states and individual communities shows that women's equality neither overthrows the state nor encroaches upon the rule of capital. But as today the political rights of woman are actually a purely proletarian class demand, so for the capitalist Germany of today they are a trumpet call of doomsday. Like the republic, like the militia, like the eight-hour day, a woman's right to vote can only either be won or defeated together with the whole class struggle of the proletariat, can only be championed with proletarian fighting methods and means of power.
Bourgeois women's rights activists want to acquire political rights, in order to participate in political life. The proletarian woman can only follow the path of workers' struggle, which in the opposite way achieves every inch of actual power, and only in this way acquires statutory rights. At the beginning of every social advance was the deed. In political life, proletarian women have to gain a firm footing through their activity in all areas, for only in this way will they lay the foundations for their rights. The dominant society denies them entry to the temples of its legislation, but another great power of the time opens the gates wide for them – the Social Democratic Party. Here, in the rank and file of the organisation, a huge incalculable field of political work and political power is spread out before the proletarian woman. Only here is woman an equal factor. Through Social Democracy she is introduced to the workshop of history, and here, where Cyclopean forces hammer, she wins for herself actual equality, even if she is denied the paper rights of a bourgeois constitution. Here by man's side, the working woman shakes the pillars of the existing order of society, and before it concedes to her the appearance of her rights, she will help to bury this kind of society in its own wreckage.
The workplace of the future needs many hands and passionate enthusiasm. A world of female misery awaits deliverance. Here the wife of the small farmer groans, almost breaking under the burden of life. There in German Africa in the Kalahari desert the bones of defenceless Herero women bleach, driven to a cruel death from hunger and thirst by German soldiers. In the high mountains of Putumayo on the other side of the ocean, unheard by the world, death screams die away of the martyred Indian women in the rubber plantations of the international capitalists.
Proletarian women, poorest of the poor, those with the least rights, hurry to the fight for the liberation of the female sex and the human race from the terrors of the rule of capital. Social democracy has offered you the post of honour. Hurry to the front and trench.
------as read by Ian White with thanks
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