To end women’s oppression in India we must fight for socialism!

A woman belonging to the lower-caste Dalits died in a Delhi hospital on Tuesday 29 September after being raped and tortured by four men in the Hathras district of Uttar Pradesh (UP). Public outrage is sweeping the nation. This gruesome and inhuman attack has once again highlighted the barbarity poor and lower-caste women face on a daily basis in India, which is rooted in the rotten capitalist system.

The Dalit woman was raped and tortured on 14 September when she was collecting firewood in her village. The four men broke her spine and cut her tongue in two. She also suffered multiple fractures on other parts of her body. Police tried to protect the criminals and didn’t register the case until there was a public outcry. The victim was denied medical care until her case made the news after growing protests. This delay cost her life.

As this horror was not enough for the victim and the family, the state authorities went on to play their horrible part in the incident. The dead body of the girl was not handed over to the family, rather it was burned in presence of the police authorities while family members were not allowed to get near the pyre. The videos of this incident have gone viral and there is public outrage against it. Protests are being held across the country, including Delhi, over this brutality. Nine decades ago, the British imperialists tried to do the same thing with the dead bodies of Bhagat Singh and his two comrades, who were hanged in 1931 for their revolutionary ideas. It seems nothing has changed and the brutal state apparatus, judicial system and the ruling class still oppressing the masses are a continuation of British Raj, which should be fought and smashed through a revolution.

ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVABLE – Right behind me is the body of #HathrasCase victim burning. Police barricaded the family inside their home and burnt the body without letting anybody know. When we questioned the police, this is what they did.— Tanushree Pandey (@TanushreePande) September 29, 2020

The only thing that has changed is that the brutality of Indian state has reached new heights never seen before. The oppression of women in India, including rape, torture and violence, has also reached unprecedented levels. In a recent report by the National Crime Records Bureau, an average of 87 rapes were reported in India every day in 2019, which is an increase of seven percent in 2018. A total of 405,861 crimes against women were reported during the year, though the number of cases is probably much higher due to the stigma of reporting rape.

The rape and torture of this Dalit girl is not a one off incident. In early September, a three-year-old girl was gang raped and killed in a sugarcane field in the Lakhimpur district of UP. Last year, two Dalit children were beaten to death after defecating in the open. In 2019, a 13-year-old girl from the lower caste family was raped and beheaded by her own brothers and uncles in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the plight of women. Cases of domestic violence, torture and sexual assault have spread like an epidemic of which there seems to be no end in sight.

The discrimination against women in India is not new and there is a long history of this opression, but it has reached new levels and become more brutal in a society crumbling under the weight of a dying capitalist system. The crisis of capitalism in India is dragging women down into the depths of brutality and despair.

In India, the oppression of women is buried under the weight of culture, religion, societal norms and the primitive caste system. But more importantly, the factor of poverty means that, as soon as a female is born, she is considered a liability to the family. If the female child is not aborted during pregnancy then she is expected to compensate for her existence by supporting her family through wage work, housework and marrying into a wealthier position. From being the property of the father or brother to the property of her husband, the working class and peasant women live a subordinated life from cradle to grave.

Close to 3,000 protestors at JantarMantar to demand justice for the Hathras survivor. #dalitlivesmatter #hathrascase— Neha Dixit (@nehadixit123) October 2, 2020

Living in the shadows

Women have suffered very acutely under the COVID-19 pandemic, and face terrible consequences in the aftermath / Image: India Water Portal, Flickr

The life of a working class and peasant woman is one of hardship and massive obstacles. Often, these women live in the shadow of their husbands and fathers. In 2016, the National Crime Records Bureau reported that a crime is recorded against a woman every three minutes, every hour at least two women are sexually assaulted, and every six hours a married woman is beaten to death, burned or driven to suicide. In 95 percent of reported rape cases, the rapists were not strangers but family members, friends and neighbours.

From a very early age girls are undernourished. A report states that more than half of Indian women of reproductive age suffer from anemia. India has the world’s largest number of anaemic women. Backward practices like only eating after all the males in the family have eaten contributes to this chronic malnutrition.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown have exacerbated an already tragic situation. The 2020 World Population report by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) warned that the “pandemic could reverse all the gains achieved so far in the fight against harmful practices against women worldwide”. There has been an increase in domestic violence cases in India during the pandemic and lockdown. A report showed that the national lockdown saw a 50 percent increase in domestic violence.

The pandemic has also affected access to healthcare. There have been several reports of migrant women giving birth on trains organised to transport migrants back to the villages. These women were denied healthcare, being forced out of the city and having to give birth on filthy trains. These situations increase the risk of infection to both mother and baby. Another report claims that, during the pandemic, 1.85 million women were denied access to abortions due to the lockdown restrictions. The lockdown has also made it extremely hard for women to access sexual or reproductive health services and sanitary products.

The pandemic has also led to women returning to the home permanently. Women are 1.8 times more likely to lose their jobs than men. This means women are more confined to the house and housework. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that, on average, women do nearly six hours of housework, including child rearing each day, while men spend less than 36 minutes a day on these chores. This is at least 40 percent more than what women do in South Africa and China. This increased workload has led to more stress, anxiety and other mental health issues.

BJP farce of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao

The condition of women has further deteriorated under the anti-worker government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since coming into power in 2014, Modi has been singing the tune of Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojna (save our daughters, educate our daughters). He’s claimed to make women’s issues central to his right-wing party agenda, but campaigns like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Yojna have been nothing more than a farce. This particular campaign was to prevent the rising rates of sex-selective abortion. Despite previous legalisation against sex-selective abortion, the act still persists due to poverty. The cost of a dowry and of splitting land for the groom’s family make a daughter an economic burden to rural families and this contributes to this barbaric practice. Most of these abortions happen illegally and lead to further health complications for the mother. According to the Population Research Institue, at least 12,711,043 sex-selective abortions have happened in India from 2000 to 2014. This is a daily average of 2,332 sex selective abortions.

Modi’s promise to fix this crisis has resulted in nothing. His scheme was introduced in 2014. However, data by the Ministry of State for Women and Child Development in 2018 reported that 56 percent of the funds for the scheme were used on publicity while only 26 percent were used in different regions and states for education pamphlets.

Modi’s patriarchal, sexist and nationalist regime is an enemy to all working-class women and peasants. In 2017, the BJP pushed to have the supreme court ban triple talaq or “instant divorce” in the Muslim community. Praised by the Hindu right as a way to reform conservative Islamic practices and to rescue women from the grip of patriarchy, this is a tool used to easily criminalise Mulism men. It allows anyone, not just the wife, to lodge a complaint against a Muslim man. The jail sentence is three years. The religious Muslim right wing is also trying to exploit this situation to oppress Muslim women even further. Thus, on both sides, women are suffering from the religious bigotry of Hindu and Muslim religious leaders and politicians.

The law about triple talaq was passed at the same time as Modi and the BJP opposed the criminalisation of marital rape. The high courts tried to pass this law but were blocked. According to BJP members, this law “cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context.”

In 2018, the BJP came out against the supreme court’s decision to allow women to visit the Sabarimala shrine in south Kerala. Women have been banned from visiting this temple and many others due to their menstruation cycles. The archaic practice of banning women from places of worship due to menstruation further cements women’s oppression. Menstruation is seen as disgusting and sinful: a young girl menstrating in India will face social exclusion, interruptions in school and even work, and isolation at home. When the supreme court overruled the ban, the BJP demanded a state-wide shutdown.

Modi has also worsened the situation among women in Kashmir. With the annexation of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, he has continued to encourage the Indian army to carry out violence in the region, especially against women. Rape and attacks on women in Kashmir are used as a way to punish Kashmiris. Soliders have confessed and produced documents showing that they were formally ordered to rape Kashmiri women as a way to intimidate Kashmiri men away from fighting for freedom. To date 671 women have been killed and 11,179 molested by the Indian troops since January 2001.

The most barbaric example of punishing women in the Kashmir region was seen with the 2018 rape and murder of eight-year-old Aasifa Bano of Kathua. Asifa Bano lived in Rasana village near Kathua in Jammu and Kashmir and belonged to a nomadic community. She was allegedly caught grazing cattle on Hindu land. Seven Hindus (including four policemen and a temple priest) repeatedly raped her and killed her by strangulation. Two ministers of the BJP led counter protests to release the accused. This is not the first time BJP MPs have been implicated in heinous crimes against women. With the help of the police and other state functionaries many BJP MPs get away with gang rape, child molestation and more.

After Modi revoked the special status of Kashmir from the Indian constitution in August 2019, a leader of the BJP in Haryana publicly stated at a rally that women in Kashmir will now be available for Indian men.

Yet the biggest attack against working-class women in India by the Modi regime has been the attack on the labour movement as a whole. BJP-controlled states have greenlit the removal of labour laws to stretch the working day from eight to twelve hours. In Uttar Pradesh, they have even taken away legal rights for unions to organise, as well as the right for a minimum wage. The recent attack on labour rights due to the pandemic will throw women into the most desperate situations. Women and young girls will be further exploited for the lowest possible wage, pushing them into more poverty and destitution.

Origins of women’s oppression

The oppression of women in India today has its roots in early class society, and is today sustained by capitalism / Image: RakeshRaju M

Women’s oppression is not the result of a genetic predisposition in all men nor part of human nature. Women’s oppression is a consequence of class society. In his work, The Origins of Private Property the Family and the State, Fredrich Engels studied the material origins of women’s oppression. By studying the anthropological works of Henry Morgan he came to the conclusion that humans did not always live in class society and endure its oppression and conflicts. Earlier forms of human society based themselves on mutual cooperation to survive and did not divide or discriminate based on sex. The woman’s role within the hunter-gatherer society was just as significant as the man’s.

The shift to women becoming subservient to men is a period in history where a surplus of food developed beyond the needs of survival of primitive hunter-gatherer groups. The surplus of food allowed the hunter-gatherer societies to settle in one area and continue to cultivate and farm more out of the land. Men played a dominant role in farming and began to take ownership of the tools to do so. Over time, this forced the woman away from the field and into the home. The breakup of the communal family unit into a narrow unit with few females for one man served an economic purpose to protect what one man collected from others.

The family unit transitioned over tens of thousands of years from a collective form of relations to a tight family unit to protect property. This economic family unit finds its highest expression under capitalism. Women are expected to have and raise the children of the man she marries to pass on his property and wealth.

Hunter-gatherer societies existed in India but this form of life was absorbed by the spread of agricultural societies. Agricultural societies displaced the primitive social relations between men and women in hunter-gatherer groups. The development over thousands of years of larger, advanced civilizations in turn further changed the relations between women and men.

The development of industrial capital in India under British colonialism was a progressive step forward for women. Women were torn from archaic forms of oppression and isolation in rural lands and thrown into the urban factories alongside male workers, creating an industrial working class. However this process was carried out unevenly, as most of the population continued to live and work in rural areas.

Industrial wage work developed a collective working-class consciousness among both women and men that would otherwise be impossible on the peasant farms. Women and men working in factories began to struggle first for workers’ rights: the right to form trade unions and for independence. Using working-class methods like strikes, occupations and general strikes, the workers fought and won many reforms. Capitalism also in some ways also broke down primitive barbaric practices, like Sati: the old brutal ritual of women comitting suicide by burning in the pyre of their dead husbands.

Of course, while women were drawn into industrial production they also were forced to do degrading work as domestic servants and prostitutes, while child labour blossomed under British colonialism.

The history of class society is bloody and violent, dividing humans into haves and have-nots. Yet it has also created the basis for its own destruction. Under capitalism, the working class is the only class in history that can bring an end to class society. Marxism sees the liberation of women as a part of the struggle for the liberation of the working class as a whole. The working class plays a revolutionary role in smashing capitalism, as its role in industrial production can bring the country to a standstill, and with the right revolutionary leadership, run production for the needs of workers, not profits.

The working-class movement can also lead the peasant struggle, as peasants alone (given their scattered form of production) cannot play a leading role in challenging the state. The best example we have of this is the Russian Revolution, which was ignited by women workers: a tiny percentage of society compared to the overwhelming peasant population. Through class-struggle methods of general strikes and occupations, women workers alongside men workers brought down a 300-hundred year old Tsarist regime in the first part of the revolution and played a vital role in the overthrow of capitalism in October 1917.

Legislate oppression away?

In the last few years, there have been nationwide demonstrations to stop violence against women and young girls. Most of these movements have centered around the need for legislative reforms. Yet laws and rules to protect women and children have not translated into equality and safety in real life, since what underpins women’s oppression is the material basis of poverty and wage exploitation.

Laws forbidding child marriages have not prevented child marriages from happening in India. Child marriages are driven by poverty. Parents marry off their daughters for the simple reason that they cannot continue to feed another mouth. The majority of child marriages take place in rural areas. Rural girls belong to the poorest layers of society.

The pandemic has made the situation worse since many of these children were receiving a meal at school. With schools closed, parents have been marrying off children to avoid extra food costs. A UN report published in April 2020 stated that the pandemic could lead to 13 million child marriages over the next decade. Another estimate put the figure at four million girls who are at risk of child marriages in the next two years.

Barbaric acts of gang rape and murder have caught the nation by storm and have pompted massive demonstrations demanding the death penalty for rapists. In 2019, a 27-year-old veterinarian was gang raped and killed and her body dumped by the side of the road. This provoked massive demonstrations across the nation. The four men were then shot and killed by a police officer in an alleged shoot out during custody. Thousands celebrated the death of these men yet none of this has detered rape and violence in general.

Rape and violence against women stem from the prevailing ideas that women are the sexual property of men and the family to be used and ordered around when needed. In India the most prevalent violence against women is domestic violence. A World Health Organisation report in 2017 stated that women are the most unsafe at home in India. One Indian woman is raped by her husband every three seconds.

Movements to change the legal system to protect women in marriages are constantly blocked by the ruling class and political elite who protect the patriarchal family unit.

In 2019, former chief justice Dipak Misra said:

“I do not think that marital rape should be regarded as an offence in India because it will create absolute anarchy in families and our country is sustaining itself because of the family platform which upholds family values.”

Yet even if laws were implemented to protect women from violence and speed up the prosecution of rape cases in court, how much would that change? Could a poor, working-class woman who is raped by her husband, the breadwinner of the family, go to the court and ask for justice? She would have to deal with the same police officers, judges and courts who blame and shame women for the crime and take part in it as well. How can these arms of the capitalist state protect women and girls? How much time and money would it take to push through a case against an abusive husband on little to no wages and with no legal help? What would the wife do if she was thrown out of her home and community for doing that? Where would she go for a job and shelter? What would happen to her children?

The main fear keeping women locked in violent family situations is the lack of financial means to leave. A divorced woman would not only be isolated outside the family but would also have to find a way to financially survive. Working women recieve a pathetically low wage, landlords discriminate against single and divorced women and affordable child care is near impossible. The division between women and men does not exist in our genetics but in our social conditions. Under capitalism, women are oppressed, on the one hand as workers and on the other hand as women.

The only way to combat violence against women is through a programme of social works that releases women from depedency on the family. A socialist planned economy with a national housing plan would give women the option to either live with her family or on her own. Along with housing, good quality daycare at all hours of the day would allow women to work freely. Unionised jobs that pay a living wage would allow women to work with decency and respect and not be at the mercy of sexist exploitative bosses. Free education and free healthcare would allow women and children to break from poverty and backwardness and take care of their health. Public cafeterias and laundry centers in each community, whether rural or urban, would free women from the everyday drudgery of cooking and washing.

Currently, Indian capitalism spends less than 3 percent of its total GDP on education (2018-2019) and around 1.28 percent on healthcare. Housing construction is privately owned and public daycare is non-existent.

Only under a nationalised, worker-controlled economy can we talk about such social and economic reforms. Only under socialism, when all of humanity is lifted out of degrading poverty and want, can we talk about genuine relations being formed between human beings without economic and violent compulsion.

Gender and caste oppression

Caste introduces a peculiar element to the oppression of women in India / Image: ActionAid India, Flickr

The oppression of women also has a distinct feature in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka and that is caste. The oppression faced by lower-caste women, especially Dalit women (from the lowest class) is particulary heinious. The caste system is a 3,000-year old system of labour division among the Indian population. Though the system was officially abolished in 1950, the ancient system of rigid social hierarchy still persists in all aspects of life today. The caste system categorises Hindus at birth, defining their place in society, where they can live, what jobs they can do and who they can marry.

Dalits and many tribal societies are not even considered to be a part of the original caste system. Thus, they were excluded from society and later became known as untouchables. Currently, Dalits make up 16 percent of the population.

Caste and religion proved to be a useful divide-and-conquer tactic for the British colonialists. The caste system allowed the British to easily categorise the lower layers of society in terms of wage work. However, figures like B.R Ambedkar (a noted champion against caste discrimination), further cemented divisions of caste among workers, because instead of organising lower castes in the general class struggle to overthrow imperialism and capitalism, they only fought for political recognition of lower-caste groups.

Today, caste is reinforced in India by the ruling class to serve the interests of capital. Wealth circulates within upper-caste groups, giving them better socioeconomic positions, while trapping lower-caste families in perpetual poverty and exploitative work. Though legislation exists to stop economic and social discrimation based on caste, this only benefits a few of the Dalit and tribal communities. The vast majority are languishing in poverty and violence.

Ambedkar was a staunch supporter of capitalism and hated the Russian Revolution of 1917 and Marxist ideas generally. He remained close to the British and gladly took the position of the first law minister of India after independence. Ignoring the history of Ambedkar and the poison of caste-based politics, the Stalinist Communist Parties today in their utter degeneration are trying to build an unholy alliance between the ideas of Ambedkar and Marxism

Between 2007 to 2017, the National Crime Bureau statistics crimes against Dalits increased by 66 percent, while rape against Dalit women doubled. Six Dalit women are raped every day. Violence inflicted on these women comes both from the upper-caste men and from their own caste group as well. Countless stories of gang rapes and brutal sexual violence inflicted on young Dalit women by upper caste have been reported. These men in return are protected by the community and the police, who often take part in the rape themselves.

The caste system, along with women’s oppression, predates capitalist mode of production but both are used by the capitalist system to extract more profits out of workers. Lower-caste women are a source of extremely cheap labour. These women often work outside formal sectors doing jobs like washing and cleaning streets, collecting the caracses of dead cows, domestic service and so on.

The political parties trying to represent Dalits and other lower castes never put forward a programme against capitalism and always promise a few reforms for their constituency of Dalits within the confines of capitalism.These crumbs are usually beneficial to an upper layer of privileged people from these castes, who eventually become part of the ruling class of India. The experience of BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party, a party representing Dalits) and SP (Samajwadi Party, representing poor and underprivileged castes, known as Other Backward Class, or OBC) in UP has clearly exposed the limits of reformism within capitalism. Only a revolutionary struggle waged on class lines to overthrow capitalism can end this caste system forever. In this struggle, workers and peasants from all castes need to unite against the ruling class comprising all castes. Even Modi himself is from a lower caste, but this hasn’t benefited any section of the lower castes. Instead, their exploitation and oppression has reached new heights.

A similar situation can be seen with women rising to positions of authority within this system, which hasn’t solved any of the problems faced by millions of women living in India. Despite Indira Gandhi being one of the most famous Prime Ministers in the country, and the election of many other women chief ministers and political leaders like Mayawati, Jayalalitha, Sonia Gandhi, Sheila Dixit and others, the oppression faced by working-class women continues to rise.

The only way to rid India of the caste system, along with women’s oppression, is to get rid of the material basis of artificial scarcity. If everyone had access to good schools, affordable housing, free healthcare and child care services regardless of caste, religion, gender and language, there would be no basis for discrismination and division. The discrimation exists because of unequal distribution of goods. The only way to carry this out is to expropriate the top commanding heights of the economy and place them in the hands of the workers to run production for all.

The Communist Party’s failed approach to women’s oppression

According to a 2017 article by the CPI (M) (Communist Party of India (Marxist)) on women’s oppression, the CPI(M) has around 1.1 million members in India, of whom 16 percent (over 150,000) are women. This is more than the Bolsheviks had in terms of members during the Russian Revolution, and far larger than the number of women they had in the party during the October Revolution. The tragedy is that, since its early history, the Communist Party of India has missed and derailed many revolutionary opportunities to overthrow capitalism.

The Communist Parties of India and South Asia (CP) follow the Stalinist two stage theory. They believe that bourgeois democratic reforms like land reform for peasants must be carried out by setting up a “democratic workers’ and peasants’ government” in India. Only when that is established can they then go forward towards socialism.

Yet this tactic means that the Stalinst Communist Parties and their split-off groups in India and Nepal have degenerated into parliamentary cretinism and they primarily focus on winning electoral seats in any state or parliament they can. Because previous CP governments did not fundamentally change the situation of workers and have entered into alliances with capitalist congress parties, many of the historical red areas of India have been lost. To actually end oppression would mean organising the unions and workers to overthrow capitalism.

The Communist Party of India, along with the trade unions, have organised the largest general strikes the world has ever seen. Yet, instead of organising the general strike for an all-out strike against capitalism, the CP always let the strike movement die out after a couple days. The Stalinist bureaucracy in the party are scared of the workers and would rather divert the struggle and use it to make deals in the corridors of parliament. However, if they waged a determined struggle by mobilising the unions and their membership on a revolutionary programme, they could easily sweep away the rotten Indian regime just like Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks did in the Russian Revolution of 1917.

For revolutionary Marxists, parliamentary politics is but one of the means to smash capitalism. Today, the Commuist Parties could organise its members and the majority of trade unions for an all-out general strike against the Modi regime and capitalism. The CP can lead the way to expropriating the commanding heights of the economy, implementing workers’ control and appealing to the international working class to spread the revolution. Yet this is not what we see with the CP and other Stalinist parties. Parliamentary politics becomes the only means by which they secure their own positions and privileges, relegating the class struggle for socialism as a distant objective.

Since there is no real leadership from the CP parties or the unions for female workers, bourgeois feminists and NGOs fill the void. Bourgeois feminists focus on fighting for equal rights within the system, mirroring the rights and freedoms women have in advanced capitalist countries.

However, the recent movements for women’s rights in the US, France, Spain and other advanced capitalist countries have clearly shown the brutal face of this so-called equality of the sex under capitalism. The attacks on the welfare state and rising unemployment are dragging the position of women back in time.

Women’s position under the Bolsheviks, and later Stalin

Women at the forefront of the Russian Revolution / Image: public domain

The life of a working class and peasant woman in Russia before the October Revolution was deplorable. The condition of a woman was nothing more than cattle for a man: a form of property to do with it what he pleases. Women were denied education, the right of divorce and abortions.The state even encouraged the beating of one’s wife.

In ‘The development of Capitalism in Russia’, Lenin traces the accelerated development of capitalist industry in Russia. Lenin explains that capitalist development tore down the old feudal patriarchal relations that bound women so tightly to the home. Russian capitalism needed women workers as they were much cheaper than men. Women began to work in factories, be exposed to the collective production process and to organise collectively with their male comrades on the shop floors for better wages and working conditions.

The October Revolution of 1917 smashed the capitalist mode of production and with it the old forms of oppression women suffered under. In 1918, nationalisations of major industries were carried out and placed in the hands of workers. This act itself needed the active participation of women and the oppressed. The Bolshevik Party made a conscious effort to involve women in revolutionary activity. The Russian labour movement and the Bolsheviks carried out consistent work on factory floors and strikes to organise women decades before 1917,

While it is true that a workers’ state will not overnight eradicate women and caste oppression, the very nature of a workers’ state will quickly erode poisonous social relations that were once ironed in between workers.

For example, a nationalised, worker-run production facility will not have sexist, racist or casteist bosses. The hiring and skilled training of workers will be carried out by workers themselves. They will rely on everyone in the community or region to carry out their jobs, regardless of sex or background. The shop floor will have more women and oppressed people working side by side with men, and this will quickly erode divisive social relations from the past. Equal and decent pay for all workers, regardless of sex, religion or race within each production facility, along with nurseries and cafeterias with free meals will also promote solidarity and unity among all workers.

The October Revolution was able to strike at the material basis of women’s oppression. Under capitalism, women are tied to the home and used as a reserve army of labour to keep wages down. The Russian Revolution carried out massive social work programmes to take women out of the kitchen and farm, and put them into political and productive work. Nurseries around the clock allowed women to leave their children in care while they worked and participated in party politics. Public catering facilities freed women from the drugerdy of cooking all day. Literacy campaigns were carried out so all women had access to free education. Divorce and abortion was easily granted.

However, while the Soviet Union under Lenin and the Bolsheviks was on paper the freest state for workers, women and the oppressed, in reality it faced many limitations. The liberation of women could not fully be eradicated due to the isolation of the Russian Revolution.

The precondition to socialism is to develop the productive forces to a level to provide for all: this is only possible on an international scale as the world market is international. Failed revolutions in Europe isolated the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union built itself up on extremely backward conditions, not including the effects of the First World War, which demiciated the working class in Russia. On top of this, 21 foreign imperialist armies invaded the Soviet Union, cutting off supplies and starving the Soviet peoples because they fought for their own freedom. In these conditions, it’s not possible to liberate women from class oppression. From these conditions, a bureaucracy was raised above the workers and even above the Bolshevik Party to steer and control production, and eventually the outcome of the revolution. This is explained brilliantly in Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed. Stalin headed this bureaucracy and placed before the Russian workers the idea of socialism in one country.

The Stalinist bureaucracy was not concerned with international efforts to liberate the working class and the oppressed. While the planned economy in the soviet union was a step forward, it did not liberate women and the oppressed fully. This political counterrevolution was clearly expressed in the status of women. The bureaucracy required the old bourgeois family as a social base as it carried out its political counter-revolution. Under Stalin, the nuclear family strucutre was reinforced, divorce and abortion became harder to attain and homosexuality was considered a crime.

Woman free from man, both free from capital

Oppression is an integral part of capitalism, and without its overthrow, the misery of women and all oppressed groups will continue / Image: Pixino

The struggle to free the working class today from capitalism must involve women and all oppressed layers of society. The task of revolutionary Bolsheviks is to raise the slogan that for women to be free from man, both must be free from capital. The capitalist system has twisted and perverted relations between men and women, making the man the master and the woman the slave. This is not a part of human nature but reflective of the exploitative system of wage labour.

In India, women and young girls will not be saved by the actions of NGOs, bourgeois feminism or watered-down reforms that benefit the very few. True freedom and equality between men and women can only be realised when all have equal and free access to basic things like housing, jobs and education. Without any of these, equality is nothing but writing on paper: a true hallmark of bourgeois democracy under capitalism. It is only under a socialist planned economy can the first step to women’s liberation be realised.

A capitalist system in its deepest crisis since the Great Depression is dragging women down, headfirst, into misery and brutality. In response, there are the growing, oceanic movements against women’s oppression in Spain, Mexico, Poland, India and the USA. Women and the oppressed are fighting back with all their might against an oppressive system and all its symptoms of decay. Oppression is an integral part of capitalism, and without its overthrow, the misery will continue. We must fight to uproot it completely.