Sunday, March 8, 2009

Socialism, Feminism, and the Socialist Women's Movement from the French Revolution to World War II

Charles Sowerwine argues in this article that the feminist movement and the socialist movement have the same roots in European politics. Specifically both of these political movements stretch back to post-Revolution France where many began to question the disparity between the rhetoric of universal rights and the exclusionary policies of the Revolutionary Tribunal and later of the Napeolonic government. Women's rights and the rights of workers originated in a very closely-linked platform of socialism. Sowerwine than investigates Germany, France and England in an effort to gauge the success that women had in each of these areas in gaining rights either within or without the socialist movement. German women seem to have had the most success as the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) created a special niche for socialist women to fill and a group for them to join when women were not allowed by German law to participate actively in politics. Sowerwine argues that this special grouping of socialist women enhances their indivuality and encouraged them to take an active part in the SPD when their were allowed in by law. Next, Sowerwine argues that the French had great difficulty in bridging the gap between Socialism and Feminism. One reason for this difficulty, as argued by Sowerwine, is that there was a distinct class barrier between the two movements. While working class were attracted to socialism, middle-class women seemed to dominate the feminist-leaning parties of the day. Class distinctions put women within these two groups at odds with each other on a regular basis. Lastly, England seemed to have split the difference between the success of German women and the difficulty in France. While there was a consistent lack in England of a socialist movement, the suffragette movement gave many women the oppurtunity to gain some access to political debates. The party most open to women's suffrage in England, the Independent Labor Party, was later encompassed by the Labor Party along with other socialist-leaning parties in England. This umbrella movement allowed women to ally themselves with the Labor Party as a major force in English politics of the day.

Categories: Feminism, Categories of Difference, Citizenship, Labor.


  1. It's very interesting to me that the French feminist movement was split along class lines. This speaks to the power of class, and suggests that consideration of sex--while universal--is perhaps more ethereal and less politically important, or at least not as acute, as class issues. This has probably changed in areas where class is no longer as important. Gender issues, on the other hand, are always with us, but they appear to receive secondary, tertiary, quaternary, or even quinary attention.

  2. The fact that women's rights and the rights of workers were originally parts of a closely linked platform for socialism serves as another demonstration of how women and their rights are used in political movements early in their development and then discarded once power and influence is achieved. The interesting thing about this article was not Sowerwine's accounts of women's progress vis-a-vis this social movement in various European countries, but instead how these accounts demonstrate a tradition of political activism, or at least political awareness in women. This strong component of the article is undermined in my opinion by Sowerwine's claim that the French Revolution was that underlying catalyst for feminism and socialism. In my own research, as well as through the readings and lectures of this class, I know that essential components of both movements existed well in advance of 1789