Women and Socialism in the Early 20th Century Europe

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Women and Socialism in the Early 20th Century Europe

Germany and Russia had two of the most progressive, class-conscious and socialist societies in Europe before the First World War. In these first few decades of the early 20th century, the world saw the revival of the campaign against the oppression of women. The Marxist writings of Alexandra Kollontai and Rosa Luxemburg played a critical role in advancing this movement, as women sought more freedom from oppressive marriages and workplaces. Some of the writings remain relevant today as the socialist leaders attributed the oppression of women to class issues. The emancipation of women has always been at the center of the socialist movement, even before the emergence of Karl Marx. Kollontai and Luxemburg focus on enhancing female independence by promoting their political and workplace rights. A different approach to feminism because it integrates class issues to the fight. Early 20th socialist women promoted a united class struggle that promised women freedom from all forms of oppression rooted in a capitalist system.

Kollontai and Luxemburg envisioned a society characterized by political and economic equality between men and women. In the late 19th century, Russian women from land-owning middle-class families attained freedom only through the profession of teaching. Kollontai offered a broader vision for emancipation, calling for all citizens to receive the same electoral rights without discrimination based on sex or nationality (435). The socialist also called for the termination of commercial systems that promote the commodification of female bodies, such as prostitution ad marriage by military men (435). Commercial systems were to liberate women from their excessive dependence on male income. On the other hand, Luxemburg focused on the family unit, advancing the causes of women seeking the right to divorce. Before the 1917 Decree by the People’s Commissars, Russian women could not divorce via mutual consent or under the grounds of drunkenness or physical abuse (441). Post-Revolutionary Russia was painted as a society where women could leave unhappy marriages.

Luxemburg’s understanding of the system promoting the oppression of women was well ahead of its time because it linked expansionism with the inability to establish effective democracies. Expansionism was a concept promoting the globalization of trade and the spread of national ideals, such as the Nazi communist conquest of Russia. In her manifesto, Luxemburg argues that imperial expansionism poses a moral danger to female workers because it places them at the mercy of international capitalists and communists (451). However, Luxemburg blames the middle-working class for Russia’s inability to establish and maintain an effective democracy. The source of women’s oppression is seen in the quote, “Now that the war is over, the working class is called upon to play a role of the utmost importance at the head of all working people. It will be the staunchest and most steadfast fighter in the struggle to root out fascism within the country and in the international arena” (454). Russia’s failing middle-class was responsible for the country’s inability to apply democratic principles in domestic and international political relations.

Kollontai and Luxemburg advocate for women’s rights, but their Marxist works offer a critical analysis of economic history and its impact on modernity. Without confronting the capitalist civilization, Russian women would still suffer an imbalance in property ownership, salaries and wages. Moreover, Russia could not overcome Germany’s oppressive communist culture without countering expansionism and its implications. Positive progressivism occurs when there is economic and political equality and freedom. The early female socialists outlined the importance of having a robust and politically engaged middle-class, which is a lesson that remains true to this day. Democracy depends largely on the cohesion of the middle class, which is why women’s liberation must coincide with the class struggles for socioeconomic equality. Liberation is a campaign supposed to be characterized by new laws and new career opportunities.

Works Cited

Luxemburg, Rosa. Manifesto for International Women’s Day. In The Weimar Republic Sourcebook. Edited by Anton Kaes, Martin Jay and Edward Dimendberg, University of California Press, 1994.

Program of the Women’s Progressive Party. In Mark Steinberg, the Russian Revolution of 1905-1917. Oxford University Press, 2017. [u1] 

 [u1]Needs source verification from client

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