Flora Tristán: For Feminism and Socialism!

Flora Tristán does not live to see the revolution in 1848, but her radical ideas and her personal involvement in French workers’ struggles for social justice are a significant element in the groundswell of leftist criticism that undermines the legitimacy of the conservative Orleanist regime during the 1840s.

Flora Tristán is seen as a thinker whose works bridge the gap between “utopian” and “scientific” socialism and helps lay the foundations for modern feminist theory. Tristán is heavily influenced by the utopian-socialist thinkers of her day, but she rejects the utopian idea that class harmony can be created through the good offices of an enlightened middle class. She emphasises the existence of a fundamental class antagonism and addresses herself directly to the workers.

Her feminism complements her socialism. Whereas earlier French feminists discussed sexual inequality in isolation, Tristán argues that the oppression of women is directly related to the oppression of the working class. Her attempts to analyse the relationship between the status of women and the economic inequalities of the class system leads her to articulate what the American historian S. Joan Moon has called a “utopian synthesis” of feminism and socialism.

The most dramatic expression of Tristán’s impact on the French labour movement is the 1845 strike at the Toulon arsenal. According to the French historian Maurice Agulhon, Tristán’s visit to this city during her ‘Tour de France’ radicalise its workers and help to precipitate the great strike.

Tristán’s sudden death in 1844 cuts short her involvement in the social reform movement that culminates in 1848, but her writings and her personal contact with provincial artisans leave their mark on subsequent developments.

Tristan’s ideas and her personal dedication to the workers’ cause are not forgotten in 1848. French workers express their enduring gratitude by placing a monument on her tomb in October of 1848.

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