Women, State, and Party in Eastern Europe

Women, State, and Party in Eastern Europe

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Women, State, and Party in Eastern Europe by Sharon L. Wolchik

These essays, by American, Canadian, and East European scholars, provide a comprehensive look at the status of women in Eastern Europe, with particular emphasis on the postwar situation.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822399902
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 08/01/2012
Series: [Duke Press policy studies]
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 468
File size: 847 KB

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Women, State, and Party in Eastern Europe

By Sharon L. Wolchik, Alfred G. Meyer

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1985 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-0659-7


Alfred G. Meyer

Feminism, Socialism, and Nationalism in Eastern Europe

The conference for which the contributions to this volume were written dealt with the relationship between Marxism and feminism in the part of Europe that since the end of World War II has come under communist rule. The many questions these contributions raise can be grouped under two main headings: first, what have the concerns of women been in Eastern Europe? Has there been a feminist movement, and what was its relationship to various other political movements—socialism, liberalism, and nationalism? Second, what have approximately forty years of East European socialism done for women? The space the conference gave to the second of these questions was disproportionately larger than that devoted to the nature of East European feminist movements; indeed, one of the most important topics belonging to the first topic was left out altogether, either because it was considered too complex to be fitted in or because the participants' acquaintance with it was taken for granted. This is the relationship between feminism and Marxism. In this chapter I examine this relationship, placing the problem into the East European context as much as possible. In doing this, I dwell on the differences between East European feminism and its counterparts farther west; in many cases my remarks take the form of raising questions for which as yet we do not have answers.

Marxism and Feminism: Theoretical Considerations

Women in the Western world who, for whatever reasons, became conscious of being oppressed have always been drawn to radical movements. That is only natural, because feminist consciousness itself is a protest against the prevailing order. The more patriarchal the relations in any society, the more revolutionary any feminist sentiment will seem. Consequently, feminists tend to identify with movements on the left, and in Europe they participated actively in every one of the many revolutions that have occurred since 1789. From early on they also participated in the socialist movement as journalists, agitators, and organizers of women workers. Most of the radical women from America and Western Europe with whose lives I am acquainted remained self-conscious feminists after joining male-dominated revolutionary or reform movements.

The lives of radical women are now being studied extensively, but we still do not know enough about the process by which they were radicalized. My impression is that a large number of feminists in radical movements came from upper classes and that many of them were endowed with outstanding intellectual and organizational talents. To be talented and female and a member of a privileged class can be very alienating because the talents are given no proper outlet, and thus the privileges easily appear empty or phony. If such gifted young ladies also receive a religious upbringing, which they then take seriously, Christian morality easily turns into a strong stimulus for social criticism. Almost every American or West European radical feminist of the nineteenth century with whose life I have become acquainted came into radical politics through the path of an earnest commitment to religion. This is true also of many Russian feminists, but whether it applies in Eastern Europe is still an unanswered question.

Radical movements in their turn have tended to be sympathetic to the cause of women and often have made women's emancipation part of their own programs. That is true of the most radical spokesmen of the French Revolution, such as Condorcet and von Hippel; it applies to such men as Godwin and John Stuart Mill and to some of the Utopian Socialists, particularly Fourier, whose strong endorsement of women's liberation Engels and Marx quoted with approval. In the case of Marxism, the relationship to the cause of women's emancipation is quite complex, however, and deserves to be explored in some detail.

As a protest movement, Marxism has been concerned with the alienation of labor, a process Marx and Engels traced back to the beginnings of human civilization but that they saw as being carried to extremes under capitalism. Marx and Engels regarded productive labor as the expression of the human essence. We are distinct from animals by being endowed with intelligence and purposiveness and, therefore, have the capability to recreate the world in our image by "appropriating" it. The human species does this by means of productive labor. But with the institution of private property in the means of production, labor is alienated because property enables its owners to exploit the labor of others by appropriating the products of their labor for the benefits of the privileged class. From a mode of self-actualization, productive labor thus turns into mere drudgery, an imposed and hateful activity. Capitalism, according to Marx, intensifies this alienation because it has converted all human relations into market relations and has thus transformed all human qualities and potentials, including talents, skills, and labor power, into commodities. We can regain our humanness only by abolishing this entire system and the institution of private property on which it is based.

For Marx and Engels the history of humanity is the story of how our species has struggled to secure the material means for survival and comfort. It is a tale of progress because it has involved steady improvement in the productive forces at the disposal of human beings. Human inventiveness, creativity, and ingenuity have been the driving forces of this history. All societies are primarily production mechanisms designed to maintain and develop all available productive forces and put them to use in productive processes. To accomplish this, all societies generate an elaborate system of institutions (property systems, laws, governments, mores, beliefs, kinship patterns, etc.) that form the "superstructure" in the Marxian scheme. The superstructure is particularly necessary since all but the most primitive societies are torn by conflict between the laboring and the privileged classes and would disintegrate if they were not held together by system-maintaining institutions. Yet while the superstructure is indispensable for holding class-divided societies together, it can do so only temporarily. By its very nature, the superstructrue is static; it seeks to fix relations as they are. Yet the productive forces develop all the time, and sooner or later they will find themselves cramped and confined by the superstructure, which will then function primarily as a device for maintaining the privileges of a ruling class that has become obsolete and dysfunctional. But no ruling class can maintain itself in power forever. The productive forces of society will sooner or later become strong enough to burst out of the confinement of oppressive institutions. The old system will be destroyed by the masses of those who perform the productive labor. They will seize control in a revolution and erect a new system appropriate to the new stage in the development of the productive forces.

While in previous historic eras this cycle then began anew, Marx and Engels expressed confidence that communism would be free from baneful contradictions. It would be a society without property and without classes; it would, therefore, be able to dispense with political authority, institutions of coercion, myths, thought control, and all kinds of social inequality. It would be based on genuine sharing of all benefits and burdens and on communal self-government. All this would be possible because capitalism, by accumulating unprecedented material wealth, had made abundance possible.

In the writings of Engels and Marx, capitalism indeed emerges as a social order that has liberated all human urges toward acquisition and accumulation of material wealth, thus unleashing and stimulating inventiveness and creativity on an unprecedented scale. Capitalism has accomplished this through the institution of private property, which thus is the quintessential reason for the success it has had in promoting the wealth of nations. Yet private property is also seen as the reason for the predicted failure of the system. For an economy based on private property operates under the laws of the market, first described by the theorists of free enterprise and later amended by Marx. Marx was convinced that the laws as he interpreted them proved the coming collapse of capitalism. Briefly—and in common-sense language—he argued that the system was operating under an intrinsic compulsion toward ever greater capital intensity, and this indeed was the secret of its ever increasing volumes of production. He believed, however, that the profitability of capitalist enterprises depended not on capital intensity but on labor intensity, so that the more material wealth the system amassed, the less capable would it be to make use of this wealth. Ultimately, therefore, capitalism would choke in its own abundance.

Moreover, not only was the system incapable of using its accumulated material wealth; it was equally unable to make use of the creative potential in its human beings. Ever-increasing numbers of people would be forcibly idled, competing fiercely with each other for a shrinking number of jobs; wages would be depressed; the misery of the working class would increase. Marx and Engels summarized their views of capitalism by stating that it was a system which accumulated great wealth and great poverty, either being the precondition of the other. From this observation it was only a short step for them to convince themselves that the working class would soon revolt against this inequitable system, that it would recognize private property in the means of production to be the key institution that had to be abolished. A proletarian revolution, followed by a brief period of proletarian dictatorship, would accomplish this task. By abolishing private property it would abolish class differences and create a social order worthy of human beings. The task that Marx and Engels set themselves as their lives' project was to prepare and mobilize the working class for this revolution.

Anyone looking for the place that women and women's concerns may have in this theory will find no more than the barest hints that Engels and Marx were aware of special concerns or grievances women might have, or (in the case of Marx) that they should even be regarded as having a function to fulfill in the economic and political life of society.

In his fragmentary early essays that remained unpublished during his lifetime, Marx seems to echo Rousseau's view that to be human means being dependent on and complementary to others and that, therefore, the paradigmatic human relationship may be that between male and female. Heterosexual love, for Marx, is the model of a genuinely human social order. In cryptic but beautiful words he suggests that in the love between men and women, nature and humanity, biological drives and highest ethical commitment merge with each other. Private property, he and Engels pointed out repeatedly, corrodes this ideal relationship: in a market society, where everything we do is based on profit calculations, money acts as the universal pimp, converting all human character traits—bravery, beauty, talent, skill, persuasiveness, sexuality, etc.—into marketable commodities and all human relations—friendship, love, sexual intercourse, and marriage —into forms of prostitution.

While in the writings of Marx this theme was not explored any further, Engels on several occasions took pains to emphasize that middle-class marriage was a species of prostitution since the woman bargains her sexuality for economic security. He expressed his awareness that women were oppressed in various ways: lucrative careers were closed to them; they were barred from participation in politial life; as wage workers they earned less than their male cohorts; the double standard in sexual morality imposed terrible hardship on them; and their intellects were crippled by miseducation. Both he and Marx echoed Fourier's radical feminist views, though in watered-down form. Fourier had argued that the emancipation of women was the chief cause of progress, while the oppression of women led to general social regression. In their joint work, The Holy Family, Marx and Engels modified this by declaring the emancipation of women to be the most natural indicator of general emancipation.

Consequently, they took it for granted—though they did not express this in any of their writings—that under socialism women would enjoy equality with men in all areas of public life: equal status under the law, equal political rights, and full participation in economic life. This last point was crucial. Engels and all subsequent Marxist theorists have taken it for granted that the mobilization of all women for productive work outside the home would guarantee their emancipation. For once all able women were independent wage earners, they would be economically independent, hence free from oppression or domination by men, particularly if at the same time some traditional women's duties, such as housekeeping and childrearing, could be performed by public institutions or in cooperatives. Once these changes had occurred, marriage would cease functioning as an economic unit or as a publicly sanctioned institution regulating sexual intercourse and procreation. Mutual attraction would be the only reason for women and men to live together.

In this general way, the Marxist movement was committed to declare the emancipation of women to be a part of its political program. August Bebel, who for several decades was the undisputed leader of the largest Marxist party (the Social Democratic party of Germany), gave emphasis to this commitment in his Women and Socialism, first published in 1879, a book that for many decades remained the only authoritative statement by a Marxist leader of the movement's attempt to speak for women. The endorsement it gave to attempts at mobilizing women for work in the party convinced many radical feminists that Marxian socialism was supporting them, and it attracted many women to the movement. Yet within the Marxist movement there were many leaders who did not share Bebel's views, and in practice women's issues remained, at best, a marginal concern. Many party activists, moreover, regarded women's grievances as a decidedly unwanted and disturbing side issue that would take attention away from the really important matter—the class struggle of the proletariat. Indeed, the general tendency among those who spoke for the movement was to argue that the only oppression that mattered was that of labor by capital, all other forms of oppression being seen as derivative. Thus, all inequities in society could be subsumed under the exploitation of the working class, and the party could, in general, subscribe to the simplistic view that women's emancipation would be an automatic consequence, a fringe benefit as it were, once socialism had replaced capitalism.

As a consequence, Marxist parties did little more than make polite formal bows to women, tried indeed to mobilize them for party activity, but made very sure that women kept "their places" in the movement as auxiliaries to the male proletariat. Moreover, there were many prominent leaders who thought that even in this the party was going too far and that in fact there was no place in it for women. To some extent this was nothing else than a discrepancy between confessed theoretical beliefs and personal life-styles.

The patriarchal family life and convictions of Marx himself are well known—his regret for not having any sons, his preference for weakness and submissiveness in women, and his total unwillingness to allow his wife a role in his political work, even though she yearned to be accepted as a comrade-in-arms and repeatedly cursed the fate which condemned her to be a housekeeper. Similar observations could be made about a very large number of prominent Marxists everywhere, who often did not take women any more seriously. Rosa Luxemburg's letters to her lover are one of many sources for this observation.

Another issue which probably deserves more exploration is the persistence of what scholars now call proletarian antifeminism. While Engels had suggested that women would be liberated from dependency and oppression by engaging in wage labor, the average male worker in Europe and North America tended to demand the elimination of women from the industrial work force; agitation to this effect continued to be heard in the Marxist movement until the end of the nineteenth century and sometimes beyond that. Has it ever really been overcome? Did it move from party congresses to the trade union movement? Have Marxist parties made sustained efforts to combat it and, if so, under what circumstances? Here is an area in which much more work deserves to be done.


Excerpted from Women, State, and Party in Eastern Europe by Sharon L. Wolchik, Alfred G. Meyer. Copyright © 1985 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents

Tables and Figures vii

Acknowledgments xi

Foreword xiii

Introduction / Sharon L. Wolchik 1

I. Conditioning Factors

1. Feminism, Socialism, and Nationalism in Eastern Europe / Alfred G. Meyer 13

2. The Precommunist Legacy, Economic Development, Social Transformation, and Women's Roles in Eastern Europe / Sharon L. Wolchik 31

II. Women in the Precommunist Period

Introduction / Sharon L. Wolchik 47

3. Medical Education for Women in Austria: A Study in the Politics of the Czech Women's Movement in the 1890s / Karen Johnson Freeze 51

4. Women in the First Czechoslovak Republic / Bruce M. Garver 64

5. Ukrainian Feminism in Interwar Poland / Martha Bohachevsky-Chomiak 82

6. Peasant Women of Croatia in the Interwar Years / Mary E. Reed 98

III. Women and Politics

Introduction / Sharon L. Wolchik 115

7. Women in Romanian Politics: Elena Ceausescu, Pronatalism, and the Promotion of Women / Mary Ellen Fischer 121

8. From Courtyard to Cabinet: The Political Emergence of Albanian Women / John Kolsti 138

9. Women in Local Communist Politics in Romania and Poland / Daniel N. Nelson 152

10. Women in the Opposition in Poland and Czechoslovakia / Barbara W. Jancar 168

IV. Women and Work: Production and Reproduction

Introduction / Sharon L. Wolchik 189

11. The Socioeconomic Conditions of Women in Hungary / Rozsa Kulcsar 195

12. Theory and Reality: The Status of Employed Women in Yugoslavia / Silva Meznaric 214

13. Blue-Collar Working Women and Poverty in Hungary / Ivan Volgyes 221

14. The Rights of Women: Ideology, Policy, and Social Change in Yugoslavia / Susan L. Woodward 234

15. Social Services for Women and Childcare Facilities in Eastern Europe / Bodgan Bieczkowski 257

16. Demographic Policy and Sexual Equality: Value Conflicts and Policy Appraisal in Hungary and Romania / Robert J. McIntyre 270

17. Passage to Motherhood: Personal and Social "Management" of Reproduction in Czechoslovakia in the 1980s / Alena Heitlinger 286

V. Women's Voices

Introduction / Alfred G. Meyer 303

18. Women, Work, and Gender Equality in Poland: Reality and Its Social Perception / Renata Siemienska 305

19. The Rites of Women: Oral Poetry, Ideology, and the Socialization of Peasant Women in Contemporary Romania / Gail Kligman 323

20. The Emancipation of Women in Fact and Fiction: Changing Roles in GDR Society and Literature / Dorothy Rosenberg 344

Notes 362

Editors and Contributors 429

Index 434

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