Antje Schrupp im Netz

Dr. Antje Schrupp, Frankfurt am Main

Feminist Socialists in the First International

Cooperation and differences between women from England, France, Germany, Russia, Switzerland and the United States in the International Working Men’s Association (1864–1872)

The legendary »First International« – the first Association of the European labour movement founded with participation of Karl Marx in 1864 – was in its beginnings not only a male-dominated, but even anti-feminist organisation. Nonetheless, from 1868 on numerous women with feminist backgrounds involved themselves in this organisation, for example the French author André Léo, the Russian avant-gardist Elisabeth Dmitrieff, the US-feminist Victoria Woodhull and the English Libertarian Harriet Law.

These women had one thing in common: They opposed the growing separation of the Women’s and the Labour-Movement (in the US also the Women’s and the Abolitionist Movement), a tendency that had started in the 1850s. Many male socialists considered the disadvantages capitalism brought to women as being of less importance (a »Nebenwiderspruch«, as Marx said). On the other hand many bourgeois feminists did not engage in questions of work conditions and wages, but focused exclusively on the vindication of equal rights (especially the suffrage). Contrary to these tendencies the feminist socialists insisted that both struggles were equally important and depended on each other. But besides that, their positions differed significantly from each other: Not only did they originate in cultures with largely differing conditions of gender-roles, industrialisation, and political systems. They also belonged to different (if not contradictional) ideological tendencies – Anarchism, Nihilism, Marxism – and to various political (gender-mixed) groups.

In the First International, and especially during the Paris Commune in 1871, these differences came into direct contact with each other and initiated a controversial discussion on feminist-socialist theories and strategies: Not only was the strict opposition of bourgeois feminists to the Commune a severe challenge to the feminist socialists. Even the feminist-socialist positions entered into conflict with each other when women of different countries met personally either in Paris or later in exile in Switzerland.

In my lecture I will present the crucial points of this discussion and show its continuing actuality. What answers did these women find for still important themes such as feminism and difference of class or race? What about female solidarity on the one hand and national, political, or social identity on the other? What are the difficulties and possibilities of cooperation with men and gender-mixed political groups? Can we find an international perspective that valuates national and cultural differences? How is it possible to line out feminist (or female) politics without denying conflicts?


Antje Schrupp: Nicht Marxistin und auch nicht Anarchistin. Frauen in der Ersten Internationale, Ulrike Helmer-Verlag, Königstein 1999.

  • dies: Die Genfer Frauensektion der Ersten Internationale. In: MEGA-Studien 1999, Berlin.

  • dies: Jenseits von Autonomie und Widerstand oder: Was ist eine politische Tat? In: Sybille Becker u.a. (Hg): Das Geschlecht der Zukunft. Frauenemanzipation und Geschlechtervielfalt, Kohlhammer, Stuttgart u.a. 2000.

  • dies: Das Aufsehen erregende Leben der Victoria Woodhull, Ulrike Helmer-Verlag, Königstein 2002.

  • dies: Der Einfluss von Frauen auf den frühen Anarchismus (

  • dies: Frauen in der Pariser Kommune (

  • dies: Zukunft der Frauenbewegung, Christel Göttert-Verlag, Rüsselsheim 2004.

  • dies: Virginie Barbet et L’Internationale à Lyon, Atelier de Création Libertaire, Lyon 2005. (coming soon)

  • dies: Politik verkörpern statt Stellung beziehen. In: Ina Praetorius (Hg): Sich in Beziehung setzen. Für eine Weltsicht der Freiheit in Bezogenheit, Ulrike Helmer-Verlag, Königstein 2005 (coming soon)