The Marxist Roots of Feminism

Why angry leftist politics are more dear to the heart of feminism than the treatment of women.

Liberals’ treatment of Michelle Bachmann is rife with all the wonderful double standards we have come to expect from the Left. With few exceptions, feminists have been silent—which is nothing new for them. As David Horowitz recalled in the early 1980s: “I once asked Leslie Harris, the head of the ACLU task force on women, how feminists could continue their support of a man [Ted Kennedy] who was such a prominent abuser of women himself. ‘We know that,’ she said, ‘but he’s down for the political agenda.’”

In fact, it’s a long leftist tradition to think of and treat women this way, dating all the way back to Grandpa Marx. As Ann Coulter wrote in Human Events:

“Karl Marx kept a female slave from the time she was 8 years old, eventually using her not only as a servant but as his mistress, never acknowledging his child with her or paying her at all. She waited on him hand and foot while he explained to the world that profit is the stolen surplus value of the laborer. Like so many liberal icons, Marx seldom bathed and left his wife and children in poverty.”

Phyllis Schlafly, who has spent a lifetime pointing out liberal hypocrisy on issues of gender, says that it’s no wonder liberal women think men are pigs: Their men are pigs.

So, the question is, why are angry leftist politics more dear to the heart of feminism than the treatment of women?

The answer may lie in the roots of the modern-day feminism, specifically the publication of the 1963 manifesto, The Feminine Mystique, by Betty Friedan, a book that has had a terrible effect on modern culture.

The story behind The Feminine Mystique was revealed almost 15 years ago by Daniel Horowitz (no relation to David), professor at Friedan’s Alma mater, Smith College, in his excessively sympathetic biography, Betty Friedan and the Making of “The Feminine Mystique:” The American Left, the Cold War, and Modern Feminism. But there’s more to the story, with some answers recently provided by the extraordinary work of another professor, Paul Kengor, author of Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.

In Dupes, Professor Kengor reproduces a December 1, 1920 letter from the American Communist Party to the Soviet Comintern. It states: “Some time ago we received word from the Comint [Comintern] that they wanted the names and addresses of ‘liberal’ college professors in this country, so as to be able to send them literature for college libraries. Such a list is enclosed.”

Among those on the list is “Paul H. Douglas.” Paul Douglas and his wife, Dorothy Wolff Douglas, were staunch leftists, and in 1927 Douglas traveled to the Soviet Union, where he and his fellow progressives enjoyed a long, friendly meeting with Stalin himself. To his credit, Douglas returned from Russia skeptical of what he saw, but remained on the Left nonetheless—to the left of even FDR and his New Deal. Douglas eventually moved to the center, especially after a tour of duty in the pacific during WWII, where he served with distinction.

The pilgrimage of Dorothy Wolff Douglas, however, is not as redeeming. She divorced Paul Douglas in 1930, and became a Professor at Smith College. Her radicalism never waned. In 1953, the House Committee on Un-American Activities confronted Dorothy with evidence that she had been a member of the Communist Party. The evidence included financial transactions that revealed her to be contributing $600 a month to the Party in membership dues from the end of 1936 to the middle of 1939—information she refused to confirm or deny. In the late 1940s, Wolff Douglass was a senior member of the Congress of American Women, a communist front-group. There is no indication that she was absent from the Party during the intervening years.

How does this involve Betty Friedan?

Friedan arrived at Smith College in 1938. She started taking Professor Dorothy Wolff Douglas’s economics course in 1940, and recalls becoming interested in literature on the Spanish Civil War and communist John Reed’s book Ten Days That Shook the World. More specific, it was in February 1941 that Dorothy Wolff Douglas was able to make a great enough impact on Betty to convince her to adopt communism.

Here is where the research of Daniel Horowitz also fills in some blanks. Using Friedan’s notes, Horowitz reported that: “Especially important is what [Friedan] recorded when Douglas talked about the condition of women in Nazi Germany and the USSR. On [Friedan’s] twentieth birthday, in February 1941, Douglas mentioned what she called the ‘feminist movement.’ She talked about the ‘traditionalism’ of the Nazis’ attitude to religion, women, children, and family. According to [Friedan’s] notes, Douglas said the Nazis placed children at the center of family lives, celebrated motherhood, and opposed women working outside the house in professional positions (not as farmers and mutual laborers). They minimized the intellectual capacity of women, emphasizing instead the importance of their feelings. In the middle of her lecture on women under Nazi rule, Douglas noted parenthetically that men who controlled women’s magazines participated in this conscious ideological effort to tell women that despite their aspirations for intellectual life, in fact they were instinctual being who belonged in the home. In contrast, Douglas said, women in the USSR experienced equality of opportunity, with their wages almost matching (and in some cases exceeding) those of men.”

Betty Friedan opposed American involvement in the war before, during, and after the Nazi-Soviet Pact, showing, at the very least, that she was not a doctrinaire Party-line communist. But, according to FBI files examined by Horowitz, she reportedly did join the Young Communist League (the youth branch of the Communist Party), and attempted to join the Party itself at least twice. She records in her memoir that she attempted to join in New York in 1942, but decided against it after talking it over with her father. Daniel Horowitz, using Friedan’s FBI file, recorded another attempt in 1944, where she was turned away because “there already were too many intellectuals in the labor movement and that she would have greater party influence by staying in her own field, which is Psychology.”

Professor Horowitz stated in a lecture that,

After she left Smith, Friedan spent a year as a psychology graduate at the University of California, Berkeley. There she began nine years, from 1943 to 1952, as a labor journalist, first for Federated Press, a left-wing news service. Then, for about six years beginning in July 1946, precisely at the moment when the wartime Popular Front came under intense attack, Friedan was a reporter for the UE News, the newspaper of one of America’s most radical unions.

That union, the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, or “UE,” was more than radical. It was communist-controlled, and among Betty Friedan’s assignments at UE News was to promote the communist-run Progressive Party campaign of Henry Wallace for the presidency in 1948. The support that the communist-dominated unions gave to the Progressive Party and its anti-containment policies was the final straw between the reds and the CIO, and over the course of the next two years the Democratic-Socialist leadership of the CIO would expel the red unions, including the UE.

But there are still deeper communist connections for Friedan, which further explain not only her radical politics but her radical feminism.

As Daniel Horowitz found, Friedan read Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, the classic statement of Marxist feminism. Friedan took down what Engels had to say about the liberation of women coming only when they entered the productive workforce: “The emancipation of women becomes possible only when women are enabled to take part in production on a large, social scale, and when domestic duties require their attention only to a minor degree.”

To that, Friedan added three words of her own: “along with men.”

The modern feminist movement was on its way. But it’s journey was not over. It still had to be drilled and instilled in the schools. On that, there were many who built on Friedan’s foundation, from numerous other radical feminists to the secular disciples of John Dewey—just for starters.

Americans today need to understand that the feminist movement is rooted less in concern for every woman and more in far-left politics—even communist politics. There is a specter haunting the feminist movement, and that specter does not have the interest of women first, especially not conservative women.

Spyridon Mitsotakis is a student at New York University and an aspiring Cold War researcher and writer.