The fundamental premiss of Rey’s comment runs as follows: ‘there is little of value written on women’s oppression within the Marxist tradition and perhaps even less within the Freudian tradition.’ Consequently, the feminist critique of Hegel, Freud, Rousseau, etc, is more important than a Marxist critique of feminism, especially since Marxism has not produced the concepts with which to criticize feminism convincingly. So Rey concludes: ‘feminism is not incompatible with Marxism; in fact, they are mutually necessary. The process of Marxizing feminism can only take place pari passu with the process of feminizing Marxism.’
This view situates an ideology (feminism) on the same level as a science (Marxism). Moreover, Rey—not surprisingly—nowhere specifies what he means by feminism. For if he did so he would have to account for the unfortunate fact that each of the three ‘feminist’ authors in question takes up positions which are anathema to him. Greer’s feminism is based on a widly romantic world view: Figes herself balances Emile against the Social Contract; Millett insists on the historical and scientific value of Engels’ Origins. All three are anti-technological and humanistic. As for the revolutionary potential of the current women’s liberation movement, Figes does not even mention its existence, Greer explicitly rejects any form of organization, while Millett limits its role to that of instruction. While rightly insisting on the importance of a feminist critique of bourgeois culture, is Rey not at the same time romanticizing feminism and thereby emptying it of content? And is the critique in question not itself a part of bourgeois ideology? The notion of a ‘feminized Marxism’ or a ‘Marxized feminism’ is an absurdity. Feminism may express an awareness among women of their oppression, and has in this sense played a largely progressive role, but the task of Marxists is to forge revolutionary consciousness. Furthermore, revolutionary practice not based on a scientific theory is inconceivable. Feminism cannot provide such a theory, and that is why Marxism is the only possible starting-point—both for a theoretical understanding and for a revolutionary intervention in the current women’s liberation movement. Rey is right when he points to the inadequacy hitherto of Marxist analysis of women’s oppression: indeed in the concluding paragraph of her review Branka Magas spoke of ‘the failure of Marxism itself to develop a fully worked out and adequate theory of the role of the family in advanced capitalism, or of the specificity of women’s oppression’. But it is in part through a rigorous critique of current non-Marxist and non-scientific analyses that Marxists can at once develop Marxist theory itself and begin to provide the scientific analysis necessary to any revolutionary practice within the women’s liberation movement. The organizational reflection of the feminism/Marxism complementarity which Rey seeks to establish is the complementarity of the ‘women’s’ and ‘men’s’ revolutionary parties of which he speaks.
The idea that women should form a separate revolutionary Party implies regression to pre-Leninist and pre-Marxist ideas—moreover it is a regression to the romantic conception that the most oppressed group is necessarily the most revolutionary group in society. This view was maintained by such pre-Marxist German revolutionists as Weitling and it was one that Marx bitterly fought. According to Weitling, the most revolutionary class was the lumpen-proletariat because it was undoubtedly more miserable than the working class proper. And in 1848 the lumpen also sometimes showed themselves capable of a destructive ardour that appeared to lend substance to Weitling’s theories. Marx insisted that the really revolutionary class was the one which not only had no stake in the old property regime but also represented the possibility of a new social order; the proletariat could destroy capitalism because of its position in the social formation. Its labour power was the motor of the forces of production which were in contradiction with capitalist relations of production. Clearly nothing essential has to change in this analysis today. Any idea of substituting the perspective of peasants, women, ethnic minorities, etc, for the revolutionary class standpoint of the proletariat would be quite simply a break with Marxism in favour of some variety of populism. The revolt of all these groups—who frequently comprise in part a section of the proletariat—clearly has a crucial anti-capitalist potential and the working class has a duty to support all their struggles.
But one should not confuse the potential of these oppressed groups in the struggle against capitalism with the proletariat’s ability to furnish the standpoint necessary to create a new society. This derives from its decisive implantation within the capitalist social formation, which enables it to mobilize the forces of production.
To suggest importing into the revolutionary Party any of the particularisms and divisions created or sustained by bourgeois society is to fail completely to accept Lenin’s contribution to theory of the revolutionary party. Based on the universal class standpoint of the proletariat, the revolutionary party must seek to advance the interests of every exploited or oppressed group. The working class has no material interest in the preservation of any form of oppression or exploitation; such is not true generically of women, blacks, students, etc. Sections of all these groups have a direct material interest in the preservation of capitalist society. The Leninist Party brings together all those who accept the class standpoint of the proletariat and are willing to fight for it, without respect to their class origin, ethnic or cultural origin, sex or age. Of course, bourgeois ideology of every sort including male chauvinism, will tend to infiltrate a revolutionary party but if it cannot be defeated there then it is difficult to see where it can be defeated. This, of course, certainly does not rule out separate womens’ organizations and mass movements. Indeed these are necessary, and would certainly exercise a healthy influence on inner party life. Moreover the agencies of dual power in the revolutionary period could well include specific representation for women in every category (i.e. womens’ soviets, and a relevant proportion of womens’ delegates within each soviet).