Left-wing activism and personal relationships

Image: Karolina Grabowska


Only socialism will bring the emancipation of women, but we will only achieve this if there is an effective fight against machismo

The most diverse prejudices are permeated in capitalist sociability, such as machismo, racism and homophobia. These elements are intrinsically linked to the economic, political and cultural structure of society, even though they manifest themselves in different ways. One of them, in the sphere of production, involves the disqualification of some people from work because they have certain physical characteristics, their sexual orientation or even their skin color.

Another way is related to the identification of biological aspects with social issues, especially with regard to women, such as the sacralization of motherhood, the supposed emotional fragility or the inferiority of their work. This issue is also related to the attribution of social roles, historically, for example, associating black people with slavery, women with home confinement and homosexuals with promiscuity.

This is not an individual choice or personal choices, as “human beings are doubly subject to the conditions of their existence: directly, by the immediate effects of their socioeconomic situation, and, indirectly, by the ideological structure of society. society; in this way, they always develop, in their psychic structure, a contradiction that corresponds to the contradiction between the influence exerted by the material situation and the influence exerted by the ideological structure of society”.[I]

These questions are part of the socialization process that all people go through, in which we try to teach the roles that each person must fulfill in society. For example, girls are taught to play “house” and boys to learn about cars, teenage women to take care of their bodies and boys to be interested in pornography, adult women to take care of the house diligently and men to take over the responsibility of supporting the home. This is the way in which all people are raised, without any relation to their own or their parents' political and theoretical position, as it is a process of socialization broader than individuality.

It is observed, in this sense, that “the existence and conditions of existence of men are reflected, embedded and reproduced in their mental structure, to which they give shape. It is only through this mental structure that this objective process is accessible to us, that we can hinder it, favor it or dominate it. Only through man's mind, his desire to work, his search for the joy of living, in short, his psychic existence, that we create, consume and transform the world.”[ii]

These ideologies are combated politically and theoretically by Marxism, or by other theoretical formulations, such as anarchism, but this effort is not enough. Leon Trotsky, even after taking power in 1917, warned that “the way of life is much more conservative than the economy and this is, in fact, the reason why its understanding is more difficult”.[iii] These difficulties also affect left-wing activists, including Marxists, after all, these are, above all, people who experience the contradictions of society and suffer all types of pressure. Throughout their lives, over the years, they incorporate the ideologies of this society and internalize a certain way of life, marked by all types of prejudices and conservative ideas. No matter how much it seeks to combat elements of this type of socialization, these contradictions, ideologies and behaviors permeate the entire society and bring obstacles to the militancy that takes place in the name of social transformation.

For a revolutionary not to carry all these contradictions he would need to have been raised to adulthood in a communist society and, even so, when he came into contact with the contradictions experienced by those who socialized in capitalism, it is possible that this communist incorporated many of the elements cultures with which he came into contact. On the other hand, even living together from an early age in a space mainly with revolutionaries, as in the case of a Marxist political organization, does not guarantee that the person will be able to free themselves from the influence of social contradictions, either by being forced to live their life in society, or due to the fact that this organization, despite its revolutionary program, also suffers the pressures of capitalist society.

These contradictions, as they are part of people's socialization process, also manifest themselves in their daily lives and in their intimate relationships. Marxist activists, in their daily political activities, end up paying attention to the most evident problems, such as cases of racism and sexism. In some cases, even the programs of the organizations in which they work present some of these topics, such as combating violence against women or defending equal pay. However, in everyday life, the phenomenon presents itself in a more complex and difficult to be perceived form, and is therefore mistakenly considered a problem of minor importance in many situations.

Possibly the most concrete manifestations of these limits of political organizations are those that materialize in relation to women activists, creating complications in situations of marriage and motherhood. At first, especially in the case of young women, their activism comes up against family conservatism, which creates obstacles for their action, using arguments such as their young age, the fact that they relate to unknown people or even that politics there is no space for women.

It is worth remembering that, ultimately, the bourgeois family has “the task of educating submissive beings and making young people fit for marriage”.[iv] The core of the issue here, with regard to the family environment, refers to the fact that, even before finishing her socialization to be molded into the standards expected of women in society, the activist begins to place herself politically in a political field that advocates the destruction of this oppressive structure.

Even for a young woman who no longer depends economically on her family, obstacles to her activism remain. For those who live with a partner, the majority of household care remains, dividing their time between domestic activities, work and, in many cases, study. For the girl who lives with a girlfriend, there are all kinds of homophobic comments.

In all these situations there is a huge demand for this woman, even at the beginning of her mature life, to fulfill a set of tasks demanded by society, centered on starting a family, with behaviors such as complete economic independence or remaining in a family being judged negatively. an affective relationship that does not have as its objective the conception of children. Friedrich Engels showed, still in the XNUMXth century, how the oppression of women was being “gradually retouched, disguised and, in certain places, even covered in forms of greater mildness, but in no way suppressed”.[v]

In the case of married women, the situation gains even more contradictory elements, especially when considering factors such as motherhood. Within marriage in capitalist society, the wife is socially assigned to manage the house and related tasks, regardless of the other activities she carries out. These demands for a harmonious and organized home are not just from the husband, but from the family itself or even the circle of friends, which places all responsibility for the success or failure of the marriage on the woman. In the case of mothers, there is added responsibility for raising their children. The fact is that, “even economically independent women suffer, in their condition as women, the impact of certain national and international injunctions. From the development of the pharmaceutical industry to ideologies, everything reflects the female condition.”[vi]

In general terms, this is the situation experienced by the majority of women, in youth and adulthood, and this obviously includes women who are active in Marxist organizations. Certainly, many organizations manage to combat, to a greater or lesser extent, some of these problems within themselves, but not all. These organizations do not have any formal limitations for women to develop their activism, having the same rights as any other member, being able to train politically and develop as revolutionary leaders. However, in practice, this development of militancy does not necessarily materialize in the medium or long term.

For the militant woman, three scenarios of life and family organization are normally presented. One of them is the single woman, who achieved her economic independence at a young age and developed as a militant due to a relative material break with her family. This trajectory did not prevent romantic relationships or even motherhood, but the central trait was precisely that of not placing herself subordinate to any man since the break with her father.

The second case is those women who get married but do not have children. Although materially independent, they end up having an emotional dependence on the man with whom they are linked, which leads them to accept the situation of being the “homemakers”, especially in taking care of the house, even if they need to carry out many other tasks. . In these situations, it is very common for men to “help” with household chores by making food or at least washing the dishes. However, the most common thing is that women, despite working hours outside, are also responsible for taking care of the home.

The third case is a variant of the second, adding childcare. Because of this situation, it is not uncommon for women to withdraw from activism for some time or even permanently, due to a lack of support from their partner or family. This situation also occurs with women whose partners are activists, placing the two political activities in a hierarchy in which the woman's is almost always considered the least important.

In the case of these two scenarios, of married women with or without children, women have little time to dedicate to their political and theoretical training. This element makes them always feel insecure about intervening publicly or taking on a more complex task, after all they fear either not having the training to do so or not having the time to carry out this task. In this process, in which men stand out, women develop low self-esteem that even makes them question whether they should even be active in the military or whether they are capable of carrying out those activities.

When he wrote about the way of life after the revolution, a similar situation was observed by Leon Trotsky: “The husband, a communist, leads an active social life, progresses and finds in it the meaning of his personal life. But the woman, also a communist, wants to take part in the work of the collective, participate in meetings, work in the soviet or in the union. The family gradually breaks up, or family intimacy disappears, conflicts multiply, which creates mutual irritation that leads to divorce.”[vii]

Although it is not the most common scenario, in the face of this situation, in order to develop their activism and even make leaps in their personal lives, some of these militant women break their emotional relationships. This is a situation that typically leads to enormous personal growth for women. However, in a situation where the former couple is from the same organization, friction and internal problems can be created, which, in some cases, eventually lead to one of the couple leaving the organization. It is usually the woman who ends up moving away, after all, according to the prevailing logic in capitalist society and which invariably affects the organization, her actions, even if they are militant, are considered less important than those of men.

The fact that private life has an impact on militancy puts organizations at a crossroads between getting involved in the lives of couples or following an old and outdated common sense adage about couples fighting. The mistake in this matter is to view a problem like these as something individual. It is worth remembering that “the family and the paternal home play a very important role in capitalism as institutions for the projection of oppressed women and children”.[viii]

Whether in capitalist society or within political organizations, both men and women reproduce, even if involuntarily, oppression. Therefore, this cannot be seen as the isolated problem of a couple, who must solve their problems without involving anyone, but rather as a relationship of oppression inherent to capitalist society. Any issue related to oppression must be seen as a collective problem, preventing victims of oppression from feeling alone or helpless in the face of the psychological or even physical massacre to which they are subjected.

On a more general level, Marxists have programmatic clarity about the problem, defending daycare centers, public laundries, restaurants, the right to abortion, among other classic issues. However, simple issues, such as providing some form of care for children while mothers participate in political activities, are often not given enough attention. When there is this concern, it is not uncommon for it to be done improvised.

On the other hand, it is common for men to not understand how they can contribute to ensuring some time of rest for women, even if it is, for example, just giving up a day of leisure with friends to take care of the children or something else. another household chore. A problem like these should not be seen as an individual fault, but seen as a limitation of the organization, which is affected by society, in carrying out the debate about oppression within itself. It is not uncommon for people to get caught up in big abstract debates, exalting experiences that have long been in the past, and forget that concrete women need to have some basic conditions to be able to carry out their activism.

We need to collectively and seriously discuss these issues in our organizations. It is not a question of identifying culprits and defining punishments, but of fighting against bourgeois positions within our ranks. Trotsky, even in the face of the legal equality brought to women by the 1917 revolution, said: “establishing the effective equality of men and women in the family, that is what is incomparably more complicated and requires immense efforts to revolutionize their entire way of life” .[ix]

In capitalist society, it will not be possible to definitively put an end to these problems, but it is possible to minimize their effects, especially as reflected in women's militancy. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss these problems as something concrete, which affect people in the present, and not as abstractions that can be resolved in the distant future. Only socialism will bring the emancipation of women, but we will only achieve this if there is an effective fight against machismo and the construction of forms that minimize the impact of oppression, guaranteeing better material conditions for militants to develop theoretically and politically in the present.

*Michel Goulart da Silva He holds a PhD in history from the Federal University of Santa Catarina (UFSC) and a technical-administrative degree from the Federal Institute of Santa Catarina (IFC).


[I] REICH, Wilhelm. Mass Psychology of Fascism. 3rd ed. São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2001, p. 17.

[ii] REICH, Wilhelm. What is class consciousness? São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 1976, p. 19.

[iii] TROTSKY, Leon. Way of life issues. Their morals and ours. São Paulo: Sunderman, 2009, p. 40.

[iv] REICH, Wilhelm. The sexual struggle of youth. São Paulo: Epopeia, 1986, p. 99.

[v] ENGELS, Friedrich. Origin of the family, private property and the state. São Paulo: Centauro, 2002, p. 55.

[vi] SAFIOTTI, Heleieth. Women in class society: myth and reality. They are. Paulo: Expressão Popular, 2013, p. 135.

[vii] TROTSKY, Leon. Way of life issues. Their morals and ours. São Paulo: Sunderman, 2009.

[viii] REICH, Wilhelm. The sexual combat of youth. São Paulo: Epopeia, 1986, p. 99.

[ix] TROTSKY, Leon. Way of life issues. Their morals and ours. São Paulo: Sunderman, 2009, p. 41.

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