The Proletarian Woman (1914) by Rosa Luxemburg


“Proletarian Women’s Day inaugurates the “Week of Social Democracy.” 

The party of the disinherited places its female columns in the front lines by sending them into the heat of battle for eight days, in order to spread the seeds of socialism onto new fields. And the call for the political equality of women is the first one they make, as they prepare to win over new supporters for the working class as a whole. 

Today, the modern female wage-earning proletarian appears on the public stage as a female pioneer of the working class and, at the same time, of the female gender, the first female pioneer in centuries. 

The woman of the people has always worked hard. In the savage horde, she carried heavy loads, collected food; in the primitive village, she planted grains and ground them, and she made pottery; in ancient times, as a slave, she served the masters and suckled their offspring at her breast; in the Middle Ages, she labored in the spinning room for the feudal lord. But since the establishment of private property, the woman of the people has, for the most part, worked separately from the great workshop of social production, and therefore also of culture, cooped up in the domestic constriction of a miserable familial existence. 

Capitalism was the first to rip her out of the family and put her under the yoke of social production, forced into others’ fields, into workshops, into buildings, into offices, factories, and warehouses. As a bourgeois woman, the female is a parasite on society; her function consists in sharing in the consumption of the fruits of exploitation. As a petty-bourgeois woman, she is a workhorse for the family. As a modern female proletarian, the woman becomes a human being for the first time, since the [proletarian] struggle is the first to prepare human beings to make a contribution to culture, to the history of humanity. 

For the property-owning bourgeois woman, her house is the world. For the proletarian woman, the whole world is her house, the world with its sorrow and joy, with its cold cruelty and its raw size. The proletarian woman marches with the tunnel workers from Italy to Switzerland, camps in barracks and whistles as she dries diapers next to cliffs exploding into the air with blasts of dynamite. As a seasonal agricultural worker, she sits in springtime amidst the commotion of train stations on her modest bundle, a scarf covering her plainly parted hair, and waits patiently to be hauled from east to west. Among the many-tongued masses of starving proletarians on the middle deck of an ocean liner, she migrates from Europe to America with each wave that flushes away the misery stemming from the crisis. In this way, should an American crisis well up as a countercurrent in the direction of her original misery in Europe, she will return, to new hopes and disappointments, to a new hunt for work and bread. 

The bourgeois woman has no real interest in political rights, because she does not exercise any economic function in society, because she enjoys the finished products of class domination. The call for women’s equality, when it does well up among bourgeois women, is the pure ideology of a few feeble groups without material roots, a phantom of the antagonism between man and woman, a quirk. Thus, the farcical nature of the suffragette movement. 

The proletarian woman needs political rights because she exercises the same economic function, slaves away for capital in the same way, maintains the state in the same way, and is bled dry and suppressed by it in the same way as the male proletarian. She has the same interests and takes up the same weapons to defend them. Her political demands are rooted deep in the social abyss that separates the class of the exploited from the class of the exploiters, not in the antagonism between man and woman but in the antagonism between capital and labor. 

At a formal level, women’s political rights conform quite harmoniously with the bourgeois state. The examples of Finland, of American states, of a few municipalities, all show that a policy of equal rights for women has not yet overturned the state; it does not encroach upon the domination of capital. Yet, since the political rights of women today are actually merely a proletarian class demand, for today’s capitalist Germany, it is akin to the last trump. Like the republic, like the militia, like the eight-hour workday, women’s suffrage can only succeed or fail together with the proletarian class struggle as a whole; it can only be defended by proletarian methods of struggle and forcible means. 

Bourgeois advocates of women’s rights want to secure political rights in order then to assume a role in political life. The proletarian woman can only follow the path of the workers’ struggle, the opposite to winning an inch of real power through primarily legal statutes. At the beginning of every social advance, there was the deed. Proletarian women must gain solid ground in political life, through their activity in all areas; in this way alone will they secure a foundation for their rights. The ruling society denies them entry into their temples of law, but another great power throws open the gates for them-the Social Democratic Party. Here, in the rank and file of the organization, an expansive field of political work and political power opens up for the proletarian woman. Here alone the woman is a factor on equal footing. 

Through Social Democracy, she will be introduced into the workshop of history. And here, where cyclopean forces are hammering, she will be fighting for truly equal rights, despite the lack of a written statute in a bourgeois constitution. Here, the working woman shakes the pillars of the existing social order next to the men, and before it grants her the illusion of her rights, she will help to bury this social order under rubble. 

The workshop of the future requires many hands and hearts. A world of female misery is waiting for relief. The wife of the peasant moans as she nearly collapses under life’s burdens. In German Africa, in the Kalahari Desert, the bones of defenseless Herero women are bleaching in the sun, those who were hunted down by a band of German soldiers and subjected to a horrific death of hunger and thirst. On the other side of the ocean, in the high cliffs of Putumayo, the death cries of martyred Indian women, ignored by the world, fade away in the rubber plantations of the international capitalists.

Proletarian women, the poorest of the poor, the most disempowered of the disempowered, hurry to join the struggle for the emancipation of women and of humankind from the horrors of capitalist domination! Social Democracy has assigned to you a place of honor. Hurry to the front lines, into the trenches!”

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