Early feminism – bourgeois and proletarian

Deborah Lavin speaks at a meeting to Mark international Women’s day, held by the CPGB-ML and Red Youth in Birmingham, on 8 March 2014.

She gives a fascinating insight into Victorian life, and the bourgeois (8:30) and proletarian (11:00) trends in the struggle for women’s liberation and for the vote (12:50), passing over, inter alia, North London Collegiate School (NLCS 2:25), Women and University College London (UCL 2:35), Edith Lanchester (15:00), Milicent Fawcett and Annie Beasant (8:30).

She notes that the bourgeois ladies, along with the Liberal party, campaigned against limiting workers hours, and for a ‘ladies’ vote that would include the limiting of the vote, as with men, to those over 25 and in possession of a ‘£10’ mortgage on their own property – a far cry, in fact, from ‘universal’ suffrage. Thus these bourgeois ‘radical’ liberals were opposed to the Crosses Act of 1876 which sought to limit the working day of women to 57 hours per week (9:30).

It was the socialist, proletarian part of the movement, as typified by the Marxists, including Karl Marx’s daughters (0.35) themselves – Jenny (1:45), Laura (1:50) and Elanor (3:18), and Sylvia Pankhurst, that campaigned to limit working hours, as part of the universal workers’ campaign for the 10 hour day, led by the second international (10:15), for equal pay, and for a truly universal suffrage without property or gender restrictions – although as Marx stressed, such a vote, while bourgeois democracy exists, can only ever be “a gauge of the maturity of the working class”.

Deborah gives useful information on Marx’s and other socialists’ attitude towards Malthus and Malthusianism (3:28), and consequently to Birth control, and the relationship between work and marriage (5:30). Socialists and progressives were in favour of the liberating effect that having fewer children had upon women, but disagreed with the notion that it was “too many workers” that gave rise to poverty. Rather, it is capitalist production relations, and in particular the exploitation that gives rise to poverty and unemployment for masses of humanity – a problem that can be solved by rearranging production, planning, and utilising all of man-kinds’ wasted labour power constructively, and thereby eliminating crises, war and famine, which capitalism cannot do.

An excellent, entertaining, and informative talk.

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