Book Review from the May 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
'Women and Socialism: Class, Race, and Capital'. By Sharon Smith. Haymarket Books. 2016
This is a ‘fully revised’ re-edition, with a new subtitle, of a book with the same title that came out in 2004 by an American Trotskyist. In the meantime Smith had revised her previous derogatory attitude towards ‘middle class feminists’ (who merely want equality under capitalism). She also wanted to emphasise more her view that there is a need to unify feminist and black struggles.
One interesting fact that emerges from a couple of passages is that we were not alone in opposing the suffragettes, who were demanding votes for women on the same terms as men then had, for wanting 'Votes for Rich Women'. Some in the German Social Democratic movement took the same position in regard to the same demand in Germany (where universal male suffrage did not exist either). Smith tells us:
'… the early-twentieth-century German women's suffrage movement did not challenge the property requirements that denied working-class men the right to vote – knowing that such requirements would also deny voting rights to working-class women. Maintaining such property requirements could only strengthen the political weight of the middle and upper classes, while the working class would remain politically voiceless.'
'Some women's suffrage organizations demanded (and in some European countries, won) partial suffrage for women – with voting rights based upon property holding and the payment of taxes (that is, restricting voting rights to those women of financial means). But in many of these same societies, male suffrage was also partial, denying working-class men the right to vote. Thus, partial suffrage merely increased the voting power of the upper classes.'
In the USA universal male and female suffrage was instituted in 1920 but only on paper in the ex-Confederate States where black men let alone black women were excluded under various pretexts, an anomaly not put right until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Smith sees not insisting on this at the time as a failure on the part of earlier feminists which, she argues, should now be rectified by seeing the black and women's equality movements as part of the same struggle. Multi-identity – gays and lesbians are invited to join too – politics, if you like, instead of class politics.
She argues that the basis for women's equality has to be pay for housework. But this is not going to happen under capitalism and won't be necessary in socialism where people won't have to have a money income to access the goods and services they need. Instead, the principle 'from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs' will apply, a much better and more rational way of putting women and men in a position of equality in that respect.