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The Woman Question in the Work of Leon Trotsky

What do the works of revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky have to say about patriarchal oppression under capitalism and the path forward for women’s liberation?

Andrea D'Atri

July 22, 2020
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Image: Mar Ned - Enfoque Rojo

Leon Trotsky did not dedicate a specific work to a historical analysis of patriarchal oppression. Why, then, over more than five decades, have so many editions appeared that compile his speeches, short articles, or chapters of his other works in which he addresses the woman question?

The first such compilation, Women and the Family, appeared in 1973, published by Monad Press (a subsidiary of Pathfinder Press). With an introduction by Caroline Lund,1Caroline Lund (1944–2006) was a leader of the Young Socialist Alliance and later of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. the edition includes “From the Old Family to the New,” a chapter from his 1923 book Problems of Everyday Life; a 1923 “Letter to a Moscow Women Worker’s Celebration and Rally”; “The Protection of Motherhood and the Struggle for Culture” and “To Build Socialism Means to Emancipate Women and Protect Mothers” from 1925, both addresses to the Third All-Union Conference on the Protection of Mothers and Children held that year in Moscow;2That same year, Trotsky was removed from all public political functions after his defeat in the partisan debate against bureaucratization. In 1928, he was exiled to Alma-Ata and in 1929 expelled from the Soviet Union, to which he would no longer be allowed to return.Family Relations under the Soviets” from 1932, which are the answers to 14 questions posed by the American weekly Liberty; and “Thermidor in the Family,” which is a section of chapter 7 of his 1936 book The Revolution Betrayed.3From when the Moscow trials began, which through false accusations culminated in the exile and execution of important Bolshevik leaders.

Other reprints followed. In 1974, volume 20 of The Works of Leon Trotsky appeared in Spanish in Mexico, published by Juan Pablos Editor. That volume compiles the same texts under the title La mujer y la familia (Women and the family), but with translations from Russian that had been made by Andreu Nin4Andreu Nin (1892–1937) was a teacher, trade unionist, and revolutionary Catalan politician and founder of the Workers’ Party of Marxist Unification (POUM). He was arrested by Republican authorities during the Spanish Civil War and disappeared. He translated many works of Russian Marxists and classics of Russian literature into Spanish. during Trotsky’s lifetime and were collected by a very young Verónica Volkov.5Verónica Volkov (born 1955) is a doctor of letters, Mexican poet, essayist, and storyteller. She is the daughter of Esteban Volkov, the grandson of Leon Trotsky and Aleksandra Sokolovskaya, who lived with Trotsky and Natalia Sedova during their last years of exile in Mexico. In 1977, it was published in the Cuadernos de Anagrama collection in Barcelona under the title Escritos sobre la cuestión femenina (Writings on the woman question). This edition also includes the extensive piece “Socialist Revolution and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation” from 1973, by Mary-Alice Waters.6Mary-Alice Waters (born 1942) was national secretary of the Young Socialist Alliance and is today a leader of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. She was editor of the SWP’s newspaper, The Militant, and its theoretical journal, New International. In the early 1980s, along with Jack Barnes and other SWP leaders, she renounced Trotskyism and the theory of permanent revolution, establishing links with the Cuban Communist Party and the Sandinista National Liberation Front. She is currently the president of the SWP’s publishing house, Pathfinder Press. Both editions were followed by others from different publishers, including mimeographed versions by Trotskyist political groups in different languages.

It is no accident that these texts, compiled in these volumes, circulated just as the second wave of feminism was developing in the world’s central countries. Within the framework of the youth mobilizations against the Vietnam War, the national liberation movements in Africa, the mass strikes in the most developed countries, and the challenges to the bureaucratic regimes in eastern Europe, a “New Left” emerged that was concerned with issues of social oppression and culture and that showed greater interest in those discussions and texts. It was not only because Trotsky had been a great leader of the Left Opposition to the Stalin-led wing of the Bolshevik Party and the degeneration of the workers’ state; it was also because for several decades he had interpreted the woman’s question in a way that fundamentally opposed the official arguments of the Communist parties, which even in the 1970s maintained a dogmatic Marxism that had been distorted into an embellished vision of so-called “real socialism”7Translator’s note: In the period after World War II, and especially during the 1960s, the phrase “real socialism” or “actually existing socialism” became the main descriptor used by the Soviet bureaucracy and the regimes in the Eastern Bloc countries to describe their adapted forms of a planned economy and single-party rule that did not correspond to the revolutionary Marxist concept of socialism. that clashed with the emerging radical feminism.

It is likely that the defeat of the masses and the advance of capitalist restoration worldwide in the decades that followed are why the women’s movement lost interest in Trotsky’s sharp, concise articles and speeches. In various ways, that movement moved toward positions diametrically opposed to revolutionary socialist feminism. I would even go so far as to assert, with almost no fear of being mistaken, that through the 1990s there were only a handful of Marxists holding on to these texts, searching for some radical basis on which we could separate ourselves from the prevailing version of Marxism’s positions on the woman question, which Stalinism had transformed to justify its conservative policies — and in doing so gave liberals arguments with which to attack the Left.

The “Most Forgotten and Oppressed” of the Working Class

Trotsky’s first known text on the woman question does not typically appear in compilations. It is the speech given at the Second World Conference of Communist Women (1921), which was held simultaneously with the Third Congress of the Communist International, which went down in history as a “school of revolutionary strategy.”8Held in Moscow from June 22 through July 12, 1921, this Congress approved the “Theses on Methods and Forms of Work of the Communist Parties among Women.”

This was a difficult congress of the International. Initially, Lenin and Trotsky were in the minority against an ultraleft tendency led by the delegates from the German section. The ultraleftists argued that the economic crisis of capitalism had established a steady rise in the mobilization of the masses that created the permanent possibility of seizing power. Based on this assessment, they argued that the strategy of the Communist parties should be a “permanent offensive” — a strategy that was inconsistent with the ebb and flow of the class struggle and that led, dangerously, to the Communist parties’ isolation from the masses and the most advanced sectors of the workers’ movement.9See Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Communist International (1924).

This ultraleft tendency also attended the Second World Conference of Communist Women, challenging the draft of the “Theses” that was later approved, first by its delegates and then a few days later at the Congress of the International. In the debate, the delegates of the ultraleft tendency minimized the importance of fighting for the right to vote and considered the participation of communists in parliaments to be, in itself, a reformist deviation.

The most respected leader of communist women at the time was Clara Zetkin from Germany. Close to Lenin’s political positions, she was the target of attacks by the German Communist Party delegation before and during the Congress. In addition, the ultraleft tendency took advantage of the prestige of the Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai — who was close to its political positions — to try to have Zetkin removed from the leadership of the Communist women’s movement, something Lenin had warned against. It had been Lenin’s idea that Zetkin should write the draft of the “Theses,” as she recalls, affectionately, in her 1924 pamphlet Reminiscences of Lenin. In the document, in accord with the position defended by Lenin and Trotsky against the ultraleftists, she raised the need to strengthen the political work of the Communist parties among working women, following the line established the previous year by Inessa Armand on the importance of mobilizing the “most backward, most forgotten and oppressed, most humiliated layers of the working class and the toiling poor from the women’s army of labor.”10Inessa Armand, “Report on the First International Conference of Communist Women” (Moscow: Gosizdat, 1921). Armand was a Bolshevik leader, born in France in 1874. She presided over the Zhenotdel (the women’s political body of the Russian party), but died in 1920 of cholera.

In his speech to the delegates of the Second International Conference of Communist Women, Trotsky stated, in the same vein:

In the progress of the world labor movement, women proletarians play a colossal role. I say this not because I am addressing a women’s conference but because sheer numbers indicate what an important part the woman worker plays in the mechanism of the capitalist world. … And generally speaking, in the world labor movement the woman worker stands closest precisely to the section of the proletariat … which is the most backward, the most oppressed, the lowliest of the lowly. And just because of this, in the years of the colossal world revolution this section of the proletariat can and must become the most active, the most revolutionary, and the most initiative section of the working class.

Naturally, mere energy, mere readiness to attack are not enough. But at the same time history is filled with instances such as these: that during a more or less protracted epoch prior to the revolution, within the male section of the working class, especially among its more privileged layers, there accumulates excessive caution, excessive conservatism, too much opportunism and over-much adaptivity. And the reaction to their own backwardness and degradation which is evinced by women, that reaction, I repeat, can play a colossal role in the revolutionary movement as a whole.11A few days later, Trotsky was responsible for opening the Third Congress of the Communist International with a report on the world economic crisis and the new tasks of revolutionaries. In it, he repeated the same analysis of the world situation and argued against the mechanistic conception of the ultraleftists, who saw a direct relationship between economic catastrophe and radicalization of the political situation. In Germany, the revolution had been diverted through democratic concessions and reforms that made it possible to divide and isolate the vanguard from the masses. Trotsky established that the struggle for power was not immediately posed, but he pointed out that it was necessary to conquer the masses. The Congress then discussed the tactic of the workers’ united front, against the ultraleftists who argued that the growth of the Communist Party, in and of itself, would be an objective factor in the direct struggle for power.

This crucial debate in the history of the Communist International is reflected in Trotsky’s speech to the Second World Conference of Communist Women. It is also reflected in the synthesis arrived at in the “Theses on Methods and Forms of Work of the Communist Parties among Women,” written by Zetkin in line with the position of Lenin and Trotsky, but amended by other communist leaders closer to the ultraleftists, such as Kollontai.

Breaking the Silence Around the Problems of Everyday Life

The best-known texts by Trotsky from 1923 are mostly chapters from Problems of Daily Life. According to Trotsky in his own preface to the book, he had found that “among the party’s publications there was a need for a small pamphlet that would show the average worker and peasant, presented in a popular manner, the links between certain facts and phenomena about our period of transition and that would, by providing a suitable perspective, serve as a weapon for communist education.”12Translator’s note: These quotes are from Trotsky’s preface to the first edition of Problems of Everyday Life and do not appear in the English version from Monad Press mentioned earlier. Hence, they are here translated from an edition in Spanish. See Trotsky, Problemas de la vida cotidiana, preface to the first edition (Buenos Aires: CEIP). He undertook the work by organizing a group of party propagandists in Moscow, distributing a questionnaire, and opening a discussion. “Problems related to the family and everyday life fascinated everyone,” Trotsky wrote, and it was on this basis that a pamphlet was created, which in the end he proposed be sent “first and foremost to party members and leaders of trade unions, cooperatives, and cultural organizations” rather than be published for widespread distribution.

Two months later, Trotsky wrote a preface to the second edition in which he gives an account of the criticism received from a section of the party. “Some of the best minds sought to contrast, as far as I can tell, revolutionary tasks with those of educating about everyday life. Such an approach can only be defined as a gross political and theoretical error.”13Translator’s note: As with the previously cited preface to the first edition, Trotsky’s preface to the second edition does not appear in the Monad Press version of the book. See Trotsky, Problemas de la vida cotidiana, preface to the second edition (Buenos Aires: CEIP).

It is not difficult to see where these criticisms came from, with their markedly mechanistic content. In 1923, with Lenin out of the picture because of his serious health problems, the process of bureaucratization of the party and the workers’ state was accelerating.14In 1922, Lenin had already suffered two strokes. In the first weeks of 1923, he finished writing his political will, considered to be the synthesis of his final political battles against the party apparatus. In it, he clearly separated himself from Stalin and warned about the process of bureaucratization of the party under Stalin’s political leadership as the new general secretary; he criticized the bureaucratic way in which the oppressed nationalities of Russia were being integrated into the Soviet Union; and he stated explicitly to the need for Trotsky to become the party secretary, proposing a political bloc to confront Stalin and the dangers of bureaucratization. In 1923, Lenin suffered another stroke and lost his ability to speak. He died on January 21, 1924. Stalin, Zinoviev, and Kamenev called for a “New Course” in the face of the discontent spreading within the party and unleashed a smear campaign against Trotsky and other opposition leaders.15Meanwhile in Germany, the situation was becoming increasingly critical for the masses. France had occupied the Ruhr industrial region, factories were closed, 5 million workers had lost their jobs, and inflation was soaring to extraordinary levels. Toward the end of the year, a new insurrection in Germany was defeated. Trotsky’s articles in Pravda against this new course, in which he analyzed bureaucratism and anticipated the political dangers generated by the party’s relationship with the apparatus of the workers’ state, would later be compiled in a book entitled The New Course. But before that, Trotsky anticipated his battle with bureaucratism in Problems of Everyday Life, and the articles from The New Course are often published together with that volume.

The articles center on combating the social and cultural backwardness in which the masses of workers and peasants were immersed, because their ability to confront the bureaucracy would depend on it. Overcoming ignorance and brutalizing ancestral customs became a decisive factor in raising the cultural level of the masses and breaking their atavism and submission to the established powers so that they could consciously participate in building socialism. The Russian researcher Aleksandr Reznik points out in “Leon Trotsky, Politics, and Culture in the 1920s” that “the debate in Problems of Everyday Life was a form of indirect political debate on the forms of building socialism under conditions of peace, during which ‘public opinion’ and the activity of the ‘bases’ that could reform the ‘internal regime’ that gravitated toward the bureaucracy were revealed.”

Russia had inherited from the czarist regime a nearly 90 percent illiteracy rate among women. World War I and the civil war had pushed them into factory work, but the revolution had to work hard to eliminate the drastic differences with male workers. For Trotsky, as for other Bolshevik leaders, laws were not enough; women had to be freed from “domestic slavery.” And yet, if we take into account only the legal status of women in the revolution, we can see that their civil, social, and political rights were far superior to those of the female masses in Europe’s most advanced capitalist democracies: they had the right to vote and run for office, divorce, have an abortion, have papers, and earn a wage without permission from a husband or father. The revolution decriminalized homosexuality and taught people to read on a large scale. Trotsky, however, believed that only with the growing incorporation of women into social life — not just production — could an accelerated fight be waged against the centuries of backwardness and obscurantism imposed by the patriarchal order, under the influence of the Orthodox Church.

To achieve this participation of women in political, social, and cultural life, it was necessary to make persistent progress in socializing domestic and care work. “To institute the political equality of men and women in the Soviet state was one problem and the simplest. … But to achieve the actual equality of man and woman within the family is an infinitely more arduous problem. … As long as woman is chained to her housework, the care of the family, the cooking and sewing, all her chances of participation in social and political life are cut down in the extreme.”16Trotsky, “From the Old Family to the New,” in Problems of Everyday Life (New York: Monad Press, 1973), 38.

Following in the tradition of the French utopian socialists of the 19th century — as had Marx, Engels, Lenin, and other veterans of revolutionary socialism — Trotsky also shared the maxim of Charles Fourier, paraphrased by Engels: “In any given society the degree of woman’s emancipation is the natural measure of the general emancipation.”17Friedrich Engels, “Utopian Socialism,” part 1 of Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (1880). Translator’s note: Charles Fourier (1772–1837) was a French philosopher who is considered one of the founders of utopian socialism. He is credited with having coined the word feminism during the last year of his life. Hence, he considered that the socialist revolution did not deserve that name as long as women continued to be subjected to the “domestic slavery” of housework. “And yet it is quite obvious that unless there is actual equality of husband and wife in the family, in a normal sense as well as in the conditions of life, we cannot speak seriously of their equality in social work or even in politics.”18Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life, 38.

Amid a difficult economic and political situation for the workers’ state, amid bureaucratization, Trotsky called on women to fight for the greatest possible socialization of domestic work. He appealed, first of all, to women to fight consciously against inertia and blind habits, and as he wrote in 1923 to women workers, “it is necessary that the collective public opinion of all women workers be applied as pressure, so that everything that can be done, given our present forces and resources, will be done.”19Trotsky, “A Letter to a Moscow Women Workers’ Celebration and Rally,” in Women and the Family (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1973), 30. He wrote this because he was convinced that “the primary task, the one that is most acute and urgent, is to break the silence surrounding the problems relating to daily life.”20Trotsky, “How to Begin,” in Problems of Everyday Life, 72..

“Those Who Fight Most Energetically and Persistently for the New Are Those Who Suffer Most from the Old”

Far from the caricatured vision that so-called real socialism offered the world, in which the state provided services and rights to masses that had been converted into mere “passive” recipients of the leadership’s kind concessions, Trotsky proposed to move forward with a path and dialectical democratic process in which the core value would lie in the initiative of the masses, and the workers’ state would advise and assist in order to achieve its purposes:

There are two paths leading to the transformation of everyday family life: from below and from above. “From below” denotes the path of combining the resources and efforts of individual families, the path of building enlarged family units with kitchens, laundries, etc., in common. “From above” denotes the path of initiative by the state or by local Soviets in building group workers’ quarters, communal restaurants, laundries, nurseries, etc. Between these two paths, in a workers’ and peasants’ state, there can be no contradiction; one ought to supplement the other. … The efforts of the state would come to naught without the independent striving toward a new way of life by the workers’ families themselves; but even the most energetic display of initiative by individual workers’ families, without guidance and aid by the local Soviets and state authorities, could not bring great success either. The work must be carried on simultaneously both from above and from below.21Trotsky, “Letter to a Moscow Women Workers’ Celebration and Rally,” 29–30.

In opposition to the top-down attitude of the bureaucracy, which rejects the active participation of the masses in self-governing and administering the workers’ state, Trotsky wrote,

Thus, the way to the new family is twofold: a) the raising of the standard of culture and education of the working class and the individuals composing the class; b) an improvement in the material conditions of that class organized and carried out by the state. The two processes are intimately connected with one another.22Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life, 42.

And Trotsky added,

There must be no rushing too far ahead or lapsing into bureaucratic fanciful experiments. At a given moment, the state will be able, with the help of local soviets, cooperative units, and so on, to socialize the work done, to widen and deepen it. In this way the human family, in the words of Engels, will “jump from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.”23Ibid., 43.

Trotsky’s vision had nothing to do with the crude position according to which the revolution had to go through some period of economic and technological development — during which women’s needs would not be put at the center — so that at some later point women’s emancipation would be automatic.

The revolutionary leader delved into the psychology of the masses, who were exhausted by insurrection, civil war, famine, and disease. He analyzed the profound contradictions of a creative and transformative period that was constantly clashing with the opposing forces of the past, with deep-rooted customs and material limits. He pointed out that these changes would not be genuine unless they were based on the desire of the masses to raise their cultural level and abandon the stultifying customs of the past, which the emerging course of bureaucratization was reproducing in an effort to silence the boldest initiatives of the masses.

Trotsky considered that “a radical reform of the family and, more generally, of the whole order of domestic life requires a great conscious effort on the part of the whole mass of the working class, and presumes the existence in the class itself of a powerful molecular force of inner desire for culture and progress.”24Ibid., 37. Without this conscious participation of the masses in building their own destiny, without this “desire for culture and progress,” it is impossible to imagine the radical transformation of ancestral customs, of the family institution, and of the situation of women. Socialism is a project that is consciously constructed; it does not come about through some kind of economic automatism, nor does it end with the seizure of power by the working class. That is when the gigantic task of transformation begins, which at its core involves liquidating the old ties and institutions that subject women to degradation by and subordination to men.

No conscious militants are exempt from working for the transformation of family life, but revolutionary women are expected to lead this battle. Trotsky wrote, “Inertia and blind habit, unfortunately, constitute a great force. And nowhere does blind, dumb habit hold sway with such force as in the dark and secluded inner life of the family. And who is called upon first of all to struggle against the barbaric family situation if not the woman revolutionist?”25Trotsky,  “Letter to a Moscow Women Workers’ Celebration and Rally,” 30. He makes the same point in the “How to Begin” chapter of Problems of Everyday Life: “Just as we have our army agitators, our industrial agitators, our antireligious propagandists, so must we educate propagandists and agitators in questions of custom. As the women are the more helpless by their present limitations, and custom presses more heavily on their shoulders and backs, we may presume that the best agitators will come out of their ranks.”26Trotsky, Problems of Everyday Life, 70.. And in his letter to the Moscow assembly of women workers, he explained that “those who fight most energetically and persistently for the new are those who suffer most from the old.”27Trotsky, “Letter to a Moscow Women Workers’ Celebration and Rally,” 30.

Looking at Life through the Eyes of Women

Trotsky’s particular approach to the question of women was deeply linked to his thinking — quite removed from dogmatism and economism28Translator’s note: “Economism” in the period before the Russian Revolution of 1917 was characterized by Lenin as limiting the tasks of the working class to an economic struggle for things such as higher wages and better working conditions rather than for overturning the capitalist system itself. — about revolution’s permanent character. He began to reflect on this in 1906; it came to full, generalized fruition decades later in The Permanent Revolution.29In that work, Trotsky addresses three aspects of revolutionary processes. One is the relationship between the democratic revolution and the socialist transformation of society in the backward countries, and he thus opposes the Stalinist conception of “revolution in stages” according to which the less developed countries were too “immature” for the socialist revolution, thus justifying the subordination of the working class in alliances with sectors of the “democratic” or “anti-imperialist” national bourgeoisie. Second, he addresses the transformations of the entirety of social relations in the socialist revolution “as such,” that is, when the proletariat takes power and a process begins of constant internal struggle with customs, culture, technical development, and so on; here he opposes the idea promoted by Stalin that the same seizure of power already constitutes “nine-tenths” of the task of building a socialist society. Third, he addresses the international character of the socialist revolution, based on the globalization of the economy specific to capitalism, which shows that the socialist revolution cannot be contained within national borders except as a transitional regime; and here he opposes the Stalinist conception adopted at the Fourteenth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1925, which set forth the possibility of building a socialist society “in one country.” This is how Trotsky formulates the second aspect of permanent revolution:

For an indefinitely long time and in constant internal struggle, all social relations undergo transformation. Society keeps on changing its skin. Each stage of transformation stems directly from the preceding. This process necessarily retains a political character, that is, it develops through collisions between various groups in the society which is in transformation. Outbreaks of civil war and foreign wars alternate with periods of “peaceful” reform. Revolutions in economy, technique, science, the family, morals and everyday life develop in complex reciprocal action and do not allow society to achieve equilibrium.30Trotsky, introduction to the first (Russian) edition, The Permanent Revolution (1930).

That is a good synthesis of the intense transformation in every field that took place during the first years of the 1917 revolution — a process that was quickly blocked and then suffered a deep reversal during the Stalinist bureaucratization. From this perspective, one can understand Trotsky’s statement that laying the material foundations for a genuine emancipation of women was a major task of the Russian Revolution of 1917. This angle of analysis ended up being fundamental, years later, to Trotsky’s critique of the backward steps on rights and culture that Stalin imposed on the female masses and that are worthy of another extensive analysis. The articles, speeches, fragments of texts, and chapters scattered across Trotsky’s vast œuvre, in which he tackles the woman question, can be organized along two axes: the emancipation of women as a fundamental task of the proletarian revolution (economic, political, and cultural) and the conservative reaction of Stalinism, in everyday life and the family, as a full demonstration of the degeneration of the workers’ state.

If the utopian socialists bequeathed to revolutionary Marxism that maxim that the degree of women’s emancipation in a society is the proof of the development of general emancipation, it was Trotsky who revealed — from his own perspective — how considerable a task the proletarian revolution confronted to liquidate the archaic bonds of Russian women, who, even during history’s most convulsive social process ever, were still at a disadvantage with respect to men.

Later, using the same criterion, Trotsky examined the subordination of women in the family and their loss of their rights in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, as part of his documented analysis of the bureaucratization of the workers’ state under Stalin’s leadership.31Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed: What Is the Soviet Union and Where Is It Going? (1936). Winning women workers to the revolutionary party and its program would be of crucial importance: the most oppressed sectors of the working class, such as women, and those who do not carry on their shoulders the defeats of the past, such as the youth, would for Trotsky be the ones who could renew the strength of the revolutionary proletariat, but whose organizations, at the end of the 1930s, were being undermined by “disillusioned bureaucrats and careerists.”32Trotsky, The Transitional Program (1938). Trotsky’s elaborations of the 1930s, until his vile murder by a Stalinist agent in August 1940, deserve yet another extensive article.

These theoretical, political, and programmatic concerns of Trotsky — even in the absence of a complete work by him on the origins and scope of patriarchal oppression — are alone reason to consider that his reflections on the woman question suggest a path, based on almost a century of political experiences and theoretical developments, for an anticapitalist, socialist, and revolutionary feminism.33The texts mentioned in this article are the ones typically included in compilations of Trotsky on the woman question. I would add several others: “The Struggle for Cultured Speech” (1923), which is a chapter in Problems of Everyday Life; “Five Days,” which is chapter 7 of his magnificent History of the Russian Revolution (1932); the section of his writings on France, collected in Whither France?, which includes “The Proletariat, the Peasantry, the Army, the Women, the Youth” (1935); and “Open the Road to the Woman Worker! Open the Road to the Youth,” one of the final sections of The Transitional Program. This is even more the case in an era when the left wing of various regimes around the world seeks to limit the scope of the feminist movement to reforms, while at the same time a variety of postmodernist theories — either from ignorance or malice — seek to identify Marxism with a reductionist economism and condense its long history of theoretical, political, and programmatic struggles into the Stalinist vulgate.34Incredibly, at the very moment that right-wing populism has supplanted “progressive” neoliberal governments, a populist “Left” has resurfaced that intends to contents its electoral base by revitalizing this Stalinist, xenophobic, antifeminist, and homophobic discourse. On these new and unusual debates, see Josefina L. Martínez, “Entre ‘posmos’ y ‘rojipardos,’ qué está debatiendo la izquierda española,” Contrapunto, July 12, 2020.

Trotsky’s words still resonate today, when women constitute more than 40 percent of the wage-earning class worldwide but remain the vast majority of the most precarious, superexploited, and oppressed sector of that class, all as they continue to be the object of extraordinary male violence, discrimination, and inequality in all areas of life. Regardless of gender, anyone who lays claim to the struggle against oppression from an anticapitalist, socialist, and revolutionary feminism cannot but subscribe to Trotsky’s words from a century ago: “It is quite true that there are no limits to masculine egotism in ordinary life. In order to change the conditions of life we must learn to see them through the eyes of women.”35Trotsky, “Against Bureaucracy, Progressive and Unprogressive,” in Problems of Everyday Life, 65. It is a matter of making that “gaze” radical enough that we don’t stop at the provisional conquest of elementary rights that in a large part of the world — even a century after these texts were written — are still lacking, but that we advance decisively in the liberation from all oppressions as we liquidate the irrationality of capitalist exploitation that has, for millions of human beings, turned the planet into a filthy prison.

First published in Spanish on July 19, 2020, in Contrapunto.

Translated by Scott Cooper


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Andrea D'Atri

Andy is a leader of the Socialist Workers' Party (PTS) and the founder of the women's group Pan y Rosas (Bread and Roses) in Argentina. She is author of the book Bread and Roses: Gender and Class Under Capitalism, which has been published in Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, Mexico, Spain, Italy, France, and Germany. An English edition is now available from Pluto Press.

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