Feminist strike? - Nuevo Curso

Feminist strike? - Nuevo Curso

An article on the idea of the "women's strike", by Spanish communist collective Nuevo Curso, translated by the Communist Workers' Organisation. libcom.org do not agree with all of it but reproduce it for reference and discussion.

“To accept that the working class is really a mosaic of "identities" is to take that division and perpetuate it.”

On 8 March a "feminist strike" is being called. Feminism is not about defending equality between men and women, feminism is a very specific ideology that defends the existence of a political subject, "women", that transcends social classes.

That's why, when feminism was born, it was met with a radical critique from Marxists, with Rosa Luxemburg taking the lead. The celebration of 8 March as a universal day of struggle and fraternity of the entire working class, putting working women in the forefront, came out of the battle between the left wing of the International and feminism. It was then a matter of celebrating a day of demonstrations and demands of the class as a whole on a world level, holding up as a banner the joint interests of working men and women: the attainment of universal suffrage for men and women (Feminists asked for the vote for only women from wealthy classes) and equal pay for the same work.

Today they are calling us to join a feminist strike, playing with the ambiguity between feminism as a pure vindication of equality and feminism as a political ideology. The number and diversity of participating groups and platforms does not allow us to know clearly what this "feminist strike" is meant to be about. So we must ask ourselves some questions:

Is it a women's strike? With women coming together from the Boards of Directors of the top companies, female factory and office workers, female judges, female riot police, senior female politicians and female university professors, a "women's" strike would be an inter-class activity whose only possible objective would be to affirm a political subject, "women", above and beyond social classes. The obvious logic of what feminism means as an ideology is a platform of “common interests” of the exploiters and the exploited based on their common oppression as women. The problem is that such, "common interests" are exposed by the antagonistic interests of class. The interest of the bourgeoisie as a class today is to lead society into misery and war. To find common ground with this or that part of the bourgeoisie, over oppression of any kind, places us behind banners that in the medium term will lead us into civil strife and in the long term into imperialist war.

Is it a strike by workers? The first question is whether women workers really have specific interests different from those of the working class as a whole. And the truth is that we cannot imagine what they might be. We are all the same in the eyes of capitalism that makes us a class: pieces of meat useful for generating surplus value, nothing more. The interest of the working class as a whole is to end wage labour; and the way to do that is by confronting the concrete forms of exploitation and all inequality or oppression derived from it. Whether it be precariousness, the various kinds of discrimination we have to endlessly suffer, or the culture of segregation that divides us, doing away with all that crap is in the direct interest of the whole class. It always has been and always will be.

Do precarious workers have specific interests different from those of fixed hours workers? Or from workers of different races? And those with different passports? Of course, the existence of racial, physical or administrative differences is used by capital to try to divide us by discriminating more against one or the other. Only Christianity fetishises suffering, and the more of it, the better. To accept that the working class is really a mosaic of "identities" is to take that division and perpetuate it. Is a strike of precarious workers really the best way to fight precariousness? Is a strike of workers consisting only of one race the best way to fight against racism? No. The most effective way to fight for working class interests is to unite as a class. Nothing can be gained by allowing ourselves to be divided artificially by the system that we have to fight.

Is it a strike of all the workers led by workers? The bourgeoisie loves to see the working class as a group of atomized individuals because “divide and rule” is the way they maintain their system. The evolution of feminism in the US (the "second" and "third” wave of feminism) has served to construct a very sophisticated ideology that destroys the idea of class, redefining it as a mosaic of "identities", often contradictory, and always tending to inter-classism.

To divide men and women into categories, to give each one a different role, to make classes within classes, opens a wound which the bourgeois strategy of "divide and rule" infects.

Inevitably, as we have seen in the USA, this conception of the class as "a sum of identities", born out of an academic world that always examined us like an entomologist examines a colony of insects, opens the door to the creation of mythology and blame which foments a hellish spiral of division. For example, in the USA, blaming the average worker, redefined as "uneducated white man of middle and low income", for all the horror and discrimination on which the American bourgeoisie based its power, has served to push a significant section of the working class, fed up of a left that openly despises it, into the arms of Trumpist nationalism.

Is it a "partial struggle"? The truth is that there is no such thing as "partial struggles." With the proletariat, there is no contradiction between the "immediate objective" and the "final objective." All its political manifestations, from the smallest strike to the revolution itself, are linked by a thread visible to anyone who wants to discover it: the affirmation of human needs against the logic of capital, the last possible form of exploitation. That is why communism is not an alternative organisation of the division of labour, it is the end of the division of labour; it is not the attempt to substitute one ruling class for another, it is the end of social classes; it is not a mere re-organisation of work, but the end of the slavery of wage labour ... and that is why class is not the substitution of old identities born of the needs of a splintered society - such as the nation, gender, race or the profession- but its dissolution into a single generic human identity.

What the leftists again and again call "partial" struggles are no such thing. Class struggle tends to breakdown and dissolve all the false frontiers that serve as an excuse to divide us through various oppressions. Class struggle does not separate the workers by gender or by nationality or by anything else. When these movements against oppression assert themselves, when the flag of nationalism or any other type of false front is put before the class, then it is being diluted, and with it, the only opportunity to throw once and for all this decadent system, with all its oppressions and barbarisms, into the dustbin of History.

Nuevo Curso, 3 March 2018

Source: http://www.leftcom.org/en/articles/2018-03-08/feminist-strike


Mar 9 2018 11:59

Much as I'm critical of what passes as 'identity politics' I'd question the assumption behind this text that there is a singular feminist ideology across history up to the use of that descriptive in the modern world today. That feminism as an ideology may be problematical from a communist perspective as witnessed I suppose by the seeming need by many in our milieu to add various qualifying labels such as 'socialist', 'Marxist', 'anarchist' or when criticising it 'liberal' or maybe 'radical', but we wont get very far in trying to develop practical independent class struggle simply by attacking the label that different people at different times, and for their own different reasons, may have adopted it.
A more useful critique of this specific campaign or action would need to analyse the politics of those groups promoting it and equally the social, economic and class categories of those (women and men) who have supported it as a demo or genuine strike or otherwise chose to ignore it, and their reasons for this? There are some commonplace positive points in the text regarding for instance communism and 'the division of labour' but the evidence is missing to effectively support other of the assertions regarding this particular campaign/action - some relevant questions but not adequate answers.

Mike Harman
Mar 9 2018 13:29
Nuevo Curso wrote:
That's why, when feminism was born, it was met with a radical critique from Marxists, with Rosa Luxemburg taking the lead.

There's no citation offered, but this is from literally the first piece I found from Rosa Luxemburg about feminism, in which she strongly supports women's suffrage. This is once again really lazy boilerplate that doesn't actually deal with any of the issues or offer any actual critique at all, which SpikeyMike put a bit more politely.

Rosa Luxemburg wrote:
Exactly these facts might lead you to underrate the importance of the fight for women’s suffrage. You might think: even without equal political rights for women we have made enormous progress in educating and organizing women. Hence, women’s suffrage is not urgently necessary. If you think so, you are deceived. The political and syndical awakening of the masses of the female proletariat during the last fifteen years has been magnificent. But it has been possible only because working women took a lively interest in the political and parliamentary struggles of their class in spite of being deprived of their rights. So far, proletarian women are sustained by male suffrage, which they indeed take part in, though only indirectly. Large masses of both men and women of the working class already consider the election campaigns a cause they share in common. In all Social Democratic electoral meetings, women make up a large segment, sometimes the majority. They are always interested and passionately involved. In all districts where there is a firm Social Democratic organization, women help with the campaign. And it is women who have done invaluable work distributing leaflets and getting subscribers to the Social Democratic press, this most important weapon in the campaign.
Considering all this, the proletarian woman’s lack of political rights is a vile injustice, and the more so for being by now at least half a lie. After all, masses of women take an active part in political life. However, Social Democracy does not use the argument of “injustice.” This is the basic difference between us and the earlier sentimental, utopian socialism. We do not depend on the justice of the ruling classes, but solely on the revolutionary power of the working masses and on the course of social development which prepares the ground for this power. Thus, injustice by itself is certainly not an argument with which to overthrow reactionary institutions. If, however, there is a feeling of injustice in large segments of society – says Friedrich Engels, the co-founder of scientific socialism – it is always a sure sign that the economic bases of the society have shifted considerably, that the present conditions contradict the march of development. The present forceful movement of millions of proletarian women who consider their lack of political rights a crying wrong is such an infallible sign, a sign that the social bases of the reigning system are rotten and that its days are numbered.


Did they actually have a Rosa Luxemburg article in mind, or did they just pick the first famous Marxist woman they could think of? Not that randomly picking someone based on their gender would be identity politics at all of course...

Maybe they were thinking of Emma Goldman, who really was not a fan of the suffragettes in the slightest?

Emma Goldman wrote:
Needless to say, I am not opposed to woman suffrage on the conventional ground that she is not equal to it. I see neither physical, psychological, nor mental reasons why woman should not have the equal right to vote with man. But that can not possibly blind me to the absurd notion that woman will accomplish that wherein man has failed. If she would not make things worse, she certainly could not make them better. To assume, therefore, that she would succeed in purifying something which is not susceptible of purification, is to credit her with supernatural powers. Since woman's greatest misfortune has been that she was looked upon as either angel or devil, her true salvation lies in being placed on earth; namely, in being considered human, and therefore subject to all human follies and mistakes. Are we, then, to believe that two errors will make a right? Are we to assume that the poison already inherent in politics will be decreased, if women were to enter the political arena? The most ardent suffragists would hardly maintain such a folly.


Or Sylvia Pankhurst?

Sylvia Pankhurst wrote:
We hope nothing from this election, save that it may serve to spur the workers on to abolish Parliament, the product and instrument of the capitalist system, and to establish in its place Councils of Workers' Delegates, which shall be the executive instruments for creating and maintaining the Socialist community. The Parliament which is now being elected cannot possibly be fitted to cope with the great and important changes that are impending.


(except that this one is a critique of voting rather than feminism, although she does criticise middle and upper class feminists elsewhere).

Mar 9 2018 15:12

I did really want to have a discussion about this women's strike in Spain. However this particular article lost me in the first paragraph:

Feminism is not about defending equality between men and women, feminism is a very specific ideology that defends the existence of a political subject, "women", that transcends social classes.

because that's bullshit. The literal definition of "feminism" is "the advocacy of women's rights on the basis of the equality of the sexes."

Of course elements of feminism, like bourgeois liberal feminism which aims to have equal number of women CEOs to men, is pretty useless. But the same goes for elements of communism (who want to set up a dictatorship with gulags everywhere), socialism (who want "left-wing immigration controls"), anarchism (who want to abolish language and hygiene) and pretty much everything else. But starting an article on any of them, stating categorically that the entirety of them is summed up in their worst element would be pointless.

Beyond that the article makes some valid points. But many of them I do disagree with. This strike did specifically call on men to join them. I know certainly if all the women at my work went on strike, I would strike with them. And even in my majority-female workplace in a majority-female industry, the more senior and highly paid roles are disproportionately occupied by men. And many of the most female-dominated areas are extremely low paid (like childcare workers and school support staff).

On top of that there are numerous other issues which women – and predominantly proletarian women – experience which men don't (or at least not nearly to the same extent), like domestic violence, excessive unpaid work in the home, sexual violence, sexual harassment (including at work) etc. And in some of those areas working class women do not have the same interests as working class men. For example it is in the interests of working class male abusers to not have women be believed when they complain about domestic sexual violence.

And like it or not, many men (and unfortunately some women) believe the gender pay gap is justified.

So I think we should completely support women's rights to organise independently. Just as I think it was important in the past for, say, black auto workers in Detroit to organise and strike separately around their own demands. For example black auto workers were disproportionately placed in the most tedious and dangerous jobs in the plants, whereas white workers disproportionately got the "easiest" ones like quality control. We may not like it but to some extent that does pit the interests of one section of the working class against another. And in the UK in the 1970s, many Asian workers had to organise and strike alone against poor pay in relation to white workers – which unfortunately was a situation most white workers and their unions were quite happy with.

Moving on from that, the main thing I wanted to ask about this strike was, was it a real strike? From the reporting it looks more likely that a strike was actually taken up by a substantial number of people. For example there were reports of picket lines outside schools. (I'm comparing this with the recent "women's strike" which was reported in Poland, but in fact wasn't actually a strike at all, was basically just a day of protest which was misreported)

Can anyone tell me more? Are there any good overviews of the extent of the industrial action anywhere? Would be good to have something up on libcom pulling it all together.

Mar 10 2018 11:45

Mike H

The Nuevo Curso collective have a second and third article on this. The second is "Rosa Luxemburg Against Feminism" which has been translated by Workers' Offensive in the USA (but may only be on the facebook page "Communist Left in North America" - I have not checked but only see a rough draft). I think though there is a lot of reading into this as anti-women and not simply anti the whole idea that we are all in this together. The CWO produced it with an intro to give it a context which we would have eventually blogged here but Craftwork has pre-empted that.

Mar 10 2018 19:51

I can only comment on the protests in Poland. In fact, they were not strike actions and I find how this terminology is being misused by liberals to be very problematic. The pseudo-strikes were cross-class actions, sometimes even initiated by bosses. These are not the only pseudo-strikes in Poland - like the artists' strike or the media-based virtual immigrants' "strike" in the UK.

That said, the situation with abortion rights is tragic and more radical action is needed. Given the nature of the topic, this will always be framed as a broad struggle for all, because the organizers of such actions are interested in a few specific points.

Mar 10 2018 20:02

I've become a bit more critical of separatism. I completely agree that it's sometimes necessary but it seems that it's not acknowledged enough that it is really a "bad" pattern that should be avoided until necessary. I'm not at all sure about this but the anti trans feminism seems to feed off a mutated form of separatism?

The text seems to do the usual over abstraction of Leftcoms and ignores lots of reality. One thing about identity politics (not that I know what that is anymore, definitions are on the move it seem) and the associated practices is the difference between inward and outward expressions. I mean tools aimed at making organisations workable for everyone and tools/theories aimed at changing society outside the organisation. I think it would be useful to make a distinction between these because they seem different and pose different questions.

Mike Harman
Mar 10 2018 20:32
akai wrote:
I can only comment on the protests in Poland. In fact, they were not strike actions and I find how this terminology is being misused by liberals to be very problematic. The pseudo-strikes were cross-class actions, sometimes even initiated by bosses.

This was true for several of the 'general strike' days organised last year - it's usually 'days of action' and liberal companies will give people the day off - it's like an away-day or something. It's a shame that, or any more concrete critique at all, wasn't made in the post.

Emanuel Santos
Mar 10 2018 22:08

I have translated the Nuevo Curso piece you are referring to. However, it is still quite rough and needs lots of polishing up before I would feel comfortable publishing it. In any case, it will be released, alongside a couple of other translations, in the second issue of 'Intransigence', which, as you know, is a joint effort between WO and other internationalist communists in the United States. You can expect the second issue of 'Intransigence' to come out sometime in late March to early April.

Mar 12 2018 11:58

As with the Catalan general strike it seems that the ultra-left lined up with CCOO-UGT on opposing the feminist general strike.

Mar 15 2018 19:19

A more favourable response to the 'Women's Strike' initiative in terms of it's working class potential from this anarchist communist group, although in terms of any material analysis it mainly restricts itself to some comments on the contrast between the UK and Spain and it isn't clear to what extent actual strikes were supported by men as well as women in the workplaces.
Also though not specifically on the 'Women's Strike' it's worth comparing and contrasting the approach of the 'Angry Workers World' introduction to, and series of interviews with working class women, in their libcom blog.

wimpled off
Mar 20 2018 18:57

The relation between the Women's Strike and actual workers strikes is sometimes problematic. In London, Women's Strike activists joined a picket line for the ongoing picturehouse cinema strike. Some of these supporters then started harassing one of the union officials. This was because one of the activists recognised the BECTU official as an attendee of a Women's Place public meeting, and so labelled her a TERF and transphobe, etc. The harassment, from about 10 activists against the female official was bad enough that the police had to intervene. BECTU issued a letter referring to the incident, part of which is here:

“In view of the nature of this dispute, whilst it is natural that groups and individuals wish to show solidarity with our members, that support must compliment the values of our Union. In particular the freedom to
express opinion without intimidation.

“We appreciate the support received, but as we continue to seek to win for our members we ask all groups and individuals to remember this is a dispute which we are responsible for and intend to conduct in
compliance with the law and our rules.”

Note: I was going to post the above a few days ago, but was asked not to as an investigation was believed to be under way in BECTU. However, this incident has now been reported elsewhere.

Mar 21 2018 10:49

There appear from some reports I've seen to have been in the UK many overlaps between supporters of the Women's Strike initiative as individual demonstrators and displays of solidarity with ongoing strikes of both low paid workers and university strikers over pension rights (in both traditional and minority base unions) which clearly displayed a straightforward working class solidarity across the gender divide - a practical positive outcome to what was otherwise in much of the media (and in practice for some?) presented as a purely separate feminist reform issue unconnected to class struggle.
Workers on strike generally welcome 'outside' support including on picket lines in these difficult times even if traditional unions and their officials are often wary of the political motives of some in their desire to maintain their control of the situation, but equally 'outsiders' need to emphasise their support for the main purpose of the strike and all those involved before attempting to criticise the conduct of the strike or individuals involved in it (even if such criticism seems justified).

Serge Forward
Mar 21 2018 11:28

Jesus. Nice to see some people have their priorities. Fucking idiots. That's the madness of call out culcha innit.

Mike Harman
Mar 23 2018 12:44

Not linking to it, but "Women's Place UK" has posted video taken by the national trade union official in question, you can hear people threatening police action then the police arrive on scene.

wimpled off
Mar 23 2018 18:40
Mike Harman wrote:
you can hear people threatening police action then the police arrive on scene.

I can hear the police threatening police action; they were already on the scene.

Some people think A line has been crossed

Juan Conatz
Mar 23 2018 19:07

Reminds me of the story in Italy of autonomia movement people heckling a Stalinist union rep off the stage and him screaming about how they were fascists.

I’ve seen and had to partially deal with unaffiliated leftists creating a situation that could possibly negatively effect a union picket. I’ve never thought about writing a communique about it. Just deal with it at the time and move on.