‘Socialism and Feminism’ by Louise W. Kneeland from New Review. Vol. 2 No. 8. August, 1914.

Women march in New York’s May Day parade, 1910.

Wrongly attributed to Rosa Luxemburg, this article is the origin of the quote, “The Socialist who is not a Feminist lacks breadth. The Feminist who is not a Socialist is lacking in strategy.” Louise W. Kneeland’s essay from the New Review’s 1914 ‘Feminist Symposium’ brings nuance to what has been a near continuous debate in the Socialist movement; the attitude of Socialist organizations to the struggle of women; the place of an autonomous women’s movement in the struggle for emancipation and the role and relationships of ‘middle class feminists.’

‘Socialism and Feminism’ by Louise W. Kneeland from New Review. Vol. 2 No. 8. August, 1914.

The Socialist who is not a Feminist lacks breadth. The Feminist who is not a Socialist is lacking in strategy. To the narrowminded Socialist who says: “Socialism is a working class movement for the freedom of the working class, with woman as woman we have nothing to do,” the far-sighted Feminist will reply: “The Socialist movement is the only means whereby woman as woman can obtain real freedom. Therefore I must work for it.” Granted the Socialist is not necessarily a Feminist, nevertheless the bona fide Feminist must be, or become, a Socialist, as an analysis of the conditions will prove.

Feminism has been called a middle class movement. And so it is, in its origin. The reason is not far to seek. The machine that binds the working class woman and her children to its wheels sets the middle class woman free from the drudgery of the old-time home and gives her unwonted leisure. A leisure hers, not in the sterile, enervating environment of an Eastern harem, but in the complex, stimulating surroundings of modern civilization. But this of itself would be of no value to her without the ability to profit by these advantages. That this ability is hers woman’s place in the larger social life of to-day gives sufficient testimony. The hone no longer absorbs all her energies. She reaches out after a broader life. She struggles for what she wants, develops her capabilities, becomes ever more conscious of her power and desirous of wider fields for its exercise, at the same time arousing in her working class sister an uneasy consciousness of like demands.

Feminism is the result of human energy set free by machinery to find new outlets in a rapidly developing civilization. That its most striking manifestation takes the form of a Votes for Women campaign is but natural, considering that the movement itself is a middle class product and that political power is the most effective weapon the middle class possesses for the attainment of its ends. The ends in this case are the enlargement of individual opportunity for middle class women and an influential voice in matters that affect the general status of women as well as in the enactment and administration of humanitarian reforms. And in conjunction with this we must not forget that political power offers many opportunities for efficient self-support, which a constantly increasing economic pressure makes desirable to some of these rebels in a class accustomed to comfortable incomes.

Led by Ida Harris of the Woman’s Vigilance League, hungry women march to New York City Hall in protest of the cost of food. March 12, 1917.

This middle class origin and character it is that accounts for much of the antagonism to the Feminist movement among timid and cautious Socialists in and out of the Party. We should expect, of course, that a working class movement would be more or less hostile to middle class activity of any kind, especially when that activity seeks an extension of political power. And if middle class men fear and dislike the incursion of women of their own class into what has hitherto been considered their own peculiar province, politics—how much more must working men resent the intrusion of the increasingly capable and dominant middle class women into the working class movement. A few such women, it is true, are a valuable asset, because of their energy and ability. But the acquisition of any considerable number of them must be regarded with even more apprehension than an infusion of middle class men. The latter give to the Party, as is well known, a reformist cast that weakens and confuses it, and this tendency would be still further complicated and aggravated by Feminist .activities which would tend to divide the movement on sex lines. Not until the Socialist movement has reached such a degree of maturity as renders it stable enough to absorb, or co-operate with, this by-product of capitalism without danger to itself, can Feminism expect a friendly, helping hand from Socialist organizations. In Germany that degree of maturity seems to have been reached, and in several of the smaller European countries as well. Where this stage of development has not yet been attained, Feminism is apt to become violent, as in England, although there these conditions are aggravated by the outnumbering of the men by the women and the consequent fear on the part of some of the men of a reversal of the present sex domination.

The question now arises how in spite of all the opposition and antagonism to their movement, Feminists proceed to obtain the political power they must have, and what the ultimate outcome will be. Their main lines of attack are four. First, the appeal to woman as woman, that is, practically, to woman as a class in the sense that she as a mother performs certain special work for society which has resulted in her being treated as different from, if not inferior to, men. It is on the ground of freeing her from such discriminations and also of enabling her to protect herself and her children that this appeal is made. Second, the appeal to all those who are susceptible to the influence of a high social ideal. Third, the appeal to those to whose advantage on the political field the influence and activity of the movement can be used. Fourth, the appeal through terrorism to those who are obdurate to every other argument or influence. Who can doubt the success of efforts as varied and appeals as powerful as these when made by determined and capable women growing ever more skillful in the use of their tools?

Socialist Party at the May 9, 1914 suffrage demonstration in Washington D.C.

Say, then, the vote is won. What next? The application of political power to the enlargement of opportunities for women of the middle class; the removal of all sex discriminations against woman as woman; and the carrying out of such social reforms as are possible under capitalism. And then? Then the true condition of affairs is made clear. Then it is plainly seen that the working class woman is still a working class woman who has but helped her more favored middle class sister to obtain still greater advantages, but remains herself, together with her children, in spite of all middle class reforms and the removal of sex discriminations, a slave to the capitalist machine. From this slavery there is but one thing that can set her free—Socialism, the common ownership of the means of production and distribution. And further, as the ever increasing economic pressure forces numerous members of the middle class down into the working class and accentuates competition among the remaining members of the middle class, Feminists will come to see that in spite of all the freedom they have won, and the development of their ability, middle class women have become nothing more than upper class servants of capitalism into whose hands is confided largely (but under strict supervision) the care of the health, morals, education and recreation of the rising generation, and to a considerable extent of the public in general. A sorry task that of keeping slaves in good condition so that they may be all the more thoroughly plundered by capitalist parasites! What, considering all the circumstances, can the bona fide Feminist do but turn to Socialism?

And the narrow-minded Socialist? Oh, he has been working hard all this time to perfect those Socialist organizations that are to give woman the very freedom he doesn’t want her to have.

The New Review: A Critical Survey of International Socialism was a New York-based, explicitly Marxist, sometimes weekly/sometimes monthly theoretical journal begun in 1913 and was an important vehicle for left discussion in the period before World War One. Bases in New York it declared in its aim the first issue: “The intellectual achievements of Marx and his successors have become the guiding star of the awakened, self-conscious proletariat on the toilsome road that leads to its emancipation. And it will be one of the principal tasks of The NEW REVIEW to make known these achievements,to the Socialists of America, so that we may attain to that fundamental unity of thought without which unity of action is impossible.” In the world of the East Coast Socialist Party, it included Max Eastman, Floyd Dell, Herman Simpson, Louis Boudin, William English Walling, Moses Oppenheimer, Robert Rives La Monte, Walter Lippmann, William Bohn, Frank Bohn, John Spargo, Austin Lewis, WEB DuBois, Arturo Giovannitti, Harry W. Laidler, Austin Lewis, and Isaac Hourwich as editors. Louis Fraina played an increasing role from 1914 and lead the journal in a leftward direction as New Review addressed many of the leading international questions facing Marxists. International writers in New Review included Rosa Luxemburg, James Connolly, Karl Kautsky, Anton Pannekoek, Lajpat Rai, Alexandra Kollontai, Tom Quelch, S.J. Rutgers, Edward Bernstein, and H.M. Hyndman, The journal folded in June, 1916 for financial reasons. Its issues are a formidable and invaluable archive of Marxist and Socialist discussion of the time.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/newreview/1914/v2n08-aug-1914.pdf

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