Marxist feminism is an approach to the analysis of women’s plights in the patriarchal setup of capitalist society. The theory concerns the liberation of women. It emerged in the latter part of the nineteenth century. The concept is an intersection of Marxism and feminism.
August Bebel and Friedrich Engels are credited for the early development of theory dealing with the question of women. Inspired by Marxism, Bebel wrote his book Women and Socialism to argue that women are as equal as men in terms of their economic, social and political rights and duties.
Bebel’s Woman and Socialism was published in Germany in 1879. The book influenced working-class women as much as it opened for them an avenue to their involvement in the German socialist movement. Talking of the women’s plights in a capitalist society, Bebel argues that women are doubly disadvantaged.
On the one hand, there is their societal dependence on the men’s world. On the other hand, there is economic dependence in which women in general and proletarian women, in particular, akin to proletarian men.
He finds the problem of the oppression of women by men rooted in history. Bebel believed that the annihilation of social antagonism could solve the problem of women’s oppression.
Engels is another influential figure as a Marxist who dealt with the question of women. Engels’s book The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State is a seminal work that discusses the oppression of women.
The book explores ancient and modern societies in order to analyze the condition of women. In their joint work The Communist Manifesto, Marx and Engels discuss the women’s oppression in 19th-century capitalist society wherein women were exploited through the workforce.
Three waves of Feminism
The history of feminism can be divided into three waves. The first wave, the 19th and early 20th centuries concerns with the women’s suffrage. The second wave, the 1960s, and 1970s concerns with the women’s emancipation in society with equality of rights. The third wave that began in the 1990s in a reaction to and continuation of the second wave of feminism.
Marxist feminists see the first wave of feminism as a continuation of the bourgeois revolution which talked of equality of all but was hesitant to grant the right to franchise to women.
The second wave of feminism is considered liberal feminism by the Marxist feminists since it supported the economic growth plans of the democratic governments. This shows the Marxist feminists’ effort to trace and examine the blind spots in Marxist theory.
Notable Marxist feminists are Angela Davis, Raya Dunayevskaya, Silvia Federici, Shulamith Firestone, Clara Fraser, Alexandra Kollontai, Sheila Rowbotham, Evelyn Reed, Chizuko Ueno, and Claudia Jones.