Women on the march : gender and anti-fascism in American communism, 1935-1939 / by Denise M. Lynn.
Communist women's rights campaigns have received little acknowledgement in American women's history. Women members of the American Communist party, and women associated with the party, nurtured a vibrant movement that pushed for full equality, including access to birth control and abortion, labor legislation, and consumer's rights. Historians have described Communist women's rights campaigns during the Popular Front (1935 to 1939) as maternalist. Instead, Communist women subscribed to Marxist theory, particularly Frederick Engels', "Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State," that held gender roles were not "natural" but constructed along with the modes of production. This project demonstrates that Communist women, following Engels, rejected "natural" or "traditional" gender roles and argued for women's equality in the home and the workplace.Marxist theory did not recognize traditional gender roles, and American Communist women subscribed to Marxist theory. Communist women's fear of fascism reflected their aversion to "traditional" gender roles. They saw maternalism as a tool to perpetuate women's oppression and to enslave women. Party women argued that legislation would help to provide equality. Because communists supported legislation, party women rejected the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA). The ERA, they argued, threatened working-women's rights because it would nullify legislation guaranteeing equality.Communist women used the Soviet Union to exemplify their argument that legislation did not threaten women's equality but served as a means to preserve it. In 1936, they supported the Women's Charter, an alternative to the ERA. The charter would have protected legislation and guaranteed women's equality. Communist women also recognized housewives and mothers as political agents. During the Depression Communist women tapped housewives to conduct successful campaigns to reduce prices on foodstuffs and support union campaigns. Additionally, party women argued that African-American women faced "triple oppression," and therefore they included civil rights into their political program. This study adds to the understanding of the women's rights movement between 1920 and 1963. While Communist women never created an autonomous women's movement, they nevertheless advocated women's rights within American communism.
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