1.1 In June 1980, the Central Committee made important decisions concerning our work among women and women cadre. These decisions had positive results. There were favourable reactions within the women’s movement, where women became more open to and interested in the point of view of our Organization. Within the Organization, more importance was granted to intervening on the question of women in our mass work. Following these decisions, women cadre began to become more acutely aware of their oppression and of their situation within the Organization and in their personal life. There were meetings of women cadre which enabled us to identify some of the manifestations of chauvinism and the difficulties women experience in their political work and in their personal life.
Events surrounding International Women’s Day (IWD) sped up the process for many women (in Quebec at least) of becoming more conscious than ever of their oppression, both on the political and individual levels. The stakes of the struggle against oppression became clearer as well as the importance of waging this struggle now, including within the Organization.
In this sense, the March 1 conference held in Montreal (1981), and the speech delivered then, was an important event which has greatly contributed to the clarification and to the development of our policy on the oppression of women and of the struggle against this oppression. We must see this event as an enrichment of the work initiated by the Central Committee in June of 1980.
The situation has reached the point where the question of women, at least in the Quebec region, is a major political question in the present debates.
The women in our Organization have had enough and’ they have undertaken the struggle against their oppression in our society which also exists in our ranks. This is a sound and positive situation since the debates are held collectively and openly, and since women are beginning to say what, in the past, they did not dare say about their situation. For much too long now, problems of pressure, feelings of guilt and feelings of inferiority were considered to be personal problems, to be solved by each individual. We are now realizing that these problems are directly linked to women’s oppression, that the Organization has a collective responsibility towards these problems, and that male comrades, in particular, have specific responsibilities in the current situation.
2.1 Chauvinism and the main problems with which women cadre are confronted are first and foremost due to our lack of concern, consciousness and education about women’s oppression and its effects. To fail to see and take into consideration the specific situation or women has very concrete negative consequences.
First, given the prevailing inequality, women, generally speaking, have more difficulties in their political work. Moreover, given the lack of struggle against chauvinism, our lack of political and concrete consciousness and education, the women have to face these difficulties in isolation, as if these were personal defects. Women never felt up to what is expected of them. This adds constant pressure and tension to the problems faced in personal life and at work. Moreover, none of the Organization’s decisions, measures and policies take into consideration the specific situation of women. For example, decisions which are correct from the point of view of efficiency may have negative effects on women and penalize them. And, of course, the negative effects of incorrect decisions are still greater.
2.2 There are also manifestations of “active” chauvinism in our ranks, in the behaviour of male comrades and in certain points of view and measures adopted by the Organization.
The main chauvinist behaviour which has been pointed out is the male comrades’ tendency not to listen or pay equal attention to what female comrades have to say in political debates and discussions. The fact that women are more subjective and emotional often becomes a pretext for not considering their points of view as seriously as that of others.
The policies adopted by the Organization which were unfavorable to women and which penalized them very clearly were those concerning the attitude towards children and domestic tasks, in particular with regards to the cadres in leadership positions. An internal document written in 1978 is very eloquent in this respect: in practice, these responsabilities were seen as a hindrance to revolutionary work and were relegated to women. Even though the point of view advanced in that text has been rectified since then, and even though the struggle against egalitarianism has been undertaken in Fall 1979, it is only even more recently that we have identified the problems more clearly.
In reality, these viewpoints forced women to choose between maternity and militant work, between their political development and that of their spouse. In these conditions, it is clear why the “ideal model” of the liberated woman militant became either the single woman who refused to have children or else the married woman who succeeded in being detached from home-making preoccupations – children, domestic tasks, the couple – just like men should be according to the current sexual stereotypes.
2.3 Chauvinism is even more apparent in “personal life” since it is in the context of personal life that the contradictions between men and women are most acute at all levels (economic, daily tasks, communication, sexuality, etc.). This creates numerous problems which get carried over into women’s jobs and their political work.
2.4 Concretely, as a result of all these factors, we are confronted with the following situation: there are presently demobilized and who are resigning; women in leadership positions or those who have other important responsibilities are experiencing important difficulties, and they are hesitating more and more to carry on; the number of women, and in particular proletarian women is inversely proportional to the level of responsibility involved.
In December 1980, men made up 57% of our membership and women 43%. Yet the proportion of women on elected bodies was only the following; national level (Central Committee and Political Bureau) – 32%; Regional level – 42%; local level – 35%.
Our Organization reproduces the sexual division of labour which prevails in society and the sectors in which women are most numerous tend to be rested as unimportant, just like housework as a matter of fact. In the Organization, more men have leadership tasks, tasks related to the development of our line or public debates and most of the spokesmen are men while women are mainly found in organizational, executant and infrastructure tasks. Women with children as well as non-intellectual working women are more acutely confronted with these problems while single women and lesbians experience difficulties more particularly linked to their isolation and non-conformist lifestyles.
3.1 Our greater consciousness of the situation of women in the Organization cannot be separated from the growing coneciousness of women’s oppression in society today and in the past. Throughout history, and in all types of societies, including capitalism, women from the exploited strata have always participated in all social, economic and political struggles, and in all political and revolutionary organizations alongside men.
Under feudalism, as well as under capitalism, women took an active part in the struggles of the exploited classes which led to a more or less advanced form of capitalism or to socialism. These revolutionary struggles have undoubtedly improved the condition of women. They have led in particular to the greater participation of women in social production, and this contributed to the intensification of women’s struggle in these countries. Nevertheless, despite improvements, women’s oppression and men’s privileges were upheld, including within the working class. What has made changes possible? How, on the other hand, can we, explain their limits? These questions remain to be answered.
The history of women’s struggles and the women’s movement, as well as the struggles which women are waging today, raise more general political questions which go beyond the specific issue of their oppression. We must therefore not be surprised if presently, in the Organization, the discussions on the struggle of women lead us to deal with other fundamental questions, like the type of party we need, its links with mass organizations, the model for how comrades should act, links between personal life and politics.
This is why the question of women is taking an even greater place in the more general debates we are holding on socialism, the party, etc.
Our attitude to the question of women within the Organization and in our work in the masses was determined mainly by our political line on the liberation of women. The problems we are examining, the legitimate questions raised by the experience of women’s struggles, by the struggle in socialist countries, necessarily refers us back to our line, our history and our practice.
4.1 The first thing to note when examining the past is precisely that our line as well as our concrete analysis of women’s oppression is poorly developed.
We have dealt with this question in general terms and in a fragmented fashion. Since November 1975, when we made considerable changes to our line – summed up in the paper “For a proletarian conception of the struggle for the emancipation of women” – we never made a systematic review of our line nor did we further develop our concrete analysis of the situation of women and of the women’s movement. What we did, rather, was to examine specific aspects of our line or of our work, and most of the time, the issue of women was debated within the framework of more general concerns.
Meanwhile, it is not an overstatement to say that in the past ten years the question of women’s liberation has literally exploded into the public arena with a soaring amount of research, analyses, polemics and publications on women.
We not only failed to keep up to date with regards to these significant developments, but most of the time we rejected as a whole, the theoretical and historical contributions as well as the concrete analyses that came from the women’s movement on the basis that they were feminist. This explains why our line on women is so general and why its theoretical development was so weak.
There were errors in the general line adopted in 1975 – which is still, along with our Programme, our fundamental line ̵ and in certain respects, it represented a setback in relationship to former points of view (those developed in 1974). These positions, even if they were not entirely erroneous, far from it, were behind most of the problems we have been experiencing. What in fact has caused perhaps the greatest number of difficulties has not been so much what we said but rather what we failed to say, and the political significance of the “omissions”.
To go straight to the point, the strength and the correctness of our views at that time was that we called upon both men and women to get involved in building a proletarian party, and refused to say that women should limit their involvement to questions and organizations related to women. This position results from a more general analysis of women’s oppression and of its relation to the division of society into social classes. However, and this is what is key, the struggle against the specific oppression of women, limited to the use of specific methods with women, was made secondary. In short everything which we put forward concerning our general tasks (the party, the unity of Marxist-Leninists, the programme) proved to be correct. In practice it mobilized many women militants and women since women experience all the contradictions of the present world and of capitalism. However there were weaknesses or errors in our approach to the struggle against the specific oppression of women. Throughout our history, we have subordinated this struggle in the name of the struggle for the party, for socialism, in such a way that the struggle against women’s oppression was almost mistaken as being one and the same as the struggle against capitalism.
By putting forward that the path of women’s liberation was their participation in revolutionary work and in socially productive work, we in fact subordinated the struggle against the specific oppression of women, failing even to consider it as an essential area of struggle against capitalism. Yet it is a struggle that should be taken up and waged by all the exploited strata of society. Instead, we treated it as a bat in to be waged within the various other class struggles engaged in by the working class and its organizations. In practice, our line was reduced to the unity of men and women workers against capitalism. As a result of this point of view, the struggle against feminism and against the autonomous women’s organizations became much more important than the struggle against chauvinism and sexism.
There were also many inadequacies in our point of view on chauvinism.In our understanding and our analysis of women’s specific oppression, we have always stressed two essential aspects of this oppressions the lack or the inequality of rights for women, and the fact that women, confined to domestic work, do not have equal access to socially productive work. Our view on chauvinism was consistent with this analysis of women’s oppression. Chauvinism was everything that stood in the way of equal rights for women and their participation in socially productive work. This point of view leaves aside important expressions of chauvinism, in particular in personal relationships between men and women.
During all that time, we completely ignored the study of the place and role of the family as a material basis of women’s oppression and all the manifestations of oppression linked to the family and to sexuality. Nor did we pay much attention to all the ideological and psychological aspects, and all the mechanisms of this oppression.
4.2 Our work among, women was quite consistent with our line. Until 1978, we were in practice working outside the women’s movement and in opposition to the autonomous women’s groups. We limited our action to distributing the paper at factory gates where there was a high concentration of women workers – without much result. With the struggle against dogmatism and our increased intervention in workers’ and popular struggles, we began to work mostly with the women workers of the public sector, and the economic demands of working women became central. This was positive, as was our consistent defence of women’s democratic rights. On the other hand, we had constant problems with the “specific methods” to involve women in revolutionary work; in fact, we did not know what that meant concretely apart from a series of very specific measures. The decision to abandon these famous “methods” in 1978 and to direct our work more towards the struggles and demands of women proved to be very correct. But it also put the final stamp on our subordination of the struggle against women’s specific oppression because we no longer acknowledged that there was something specific to the situation of women.
Although we have very correctly defended several women’s demands, it should be noted that we have continually watered down our specific work on the question of women; the focus was on the criticism of feminism; there was very little or no agitation and propaganda on the question of women in the working class in general; we worked outside and in opposition to autonomous women’s groups: there was mistrust with regards to the demands that go beyond the democratic rights or the economic aspect, a lack of specific themes on women even for International Women’s Day and abandonment of specific methods because they were feminist. etc.
4.3 There are a large number of women in the Organization. Women cadre have equal rights and generally speaking, in the Organization, women are encouraged to get more involved and to take responsibilities. We have a Programme and put forward demands which uphold the equality of women. Given all this we in practice drew the conclusion that women comrades were not confronted with chauvinism and were not oppressed. Taking up the slogan of the Chinese Communist Party. “What a man can do, a woman can do,” we presumed that the liberated woman comrade was precisely someone who could do what men comrades did especially since the men comrades were not chauvinist.
As a result, the struggle of women cadres to liberate themselves was seen to be the struggle against the numerous ideological “hangups” due to women’s oppression in society which held them back: feeling of inferiority, lack of self-confidence, subjectivism, emotionalism, lack of interest in political and theoretical questions, difficulties in study, shyness, isolation, difficulty in speaking up in public. etc. For women with children, there was also the struggle against the erroneous petty-bourgeois tendencies regarding maternity and paternity leaves, the care of children, their exaggerated concern for the family, the couple and housework.
Another historical characteristic of the situation of women in the Organization was the almost total lack of education on the issue of women’s oppression and the lack of collective structures for women.
We also dissolved the specific bodies, or responsibilities concerning women since we considered them to be parallel structures and since we maintained that the question of women was present in all fields and sectors of the Organization. (theoretical research, agitation, unions, etc.). The question of women was so diffused throughout all areas of our work that we ended up with a situation where male comrades were responsible for the question of women cadre in our Organization. This was the case in the Political Bureau, for instance.
In denying in practice the specific situation of women, we have in fact acted as if socialism and even communism was already a reality within our Organization. Moreover, since we did not consider chauvinism to be an important obstacle, the point of view that prevailed was that it was women who had backward forms of behaviour or “problems to resolve”.
5.1 When we look back at our history, at the lessons to be drawn, and the problems related to our line, to our action and to the situation which developed in our ranks, we are in a better position to understand what the fundamental issue is in all the debates now taking place. The basic issue is how to make the struggle against women’s oppression an integral part of the struggle for socialism without subordinating it and to wage that struggle within the Organisation correctly. Fundamentally, we have to gain a better understanding of the relative importance to accord the struggle against women’s oppression in the revolutionary struggle. Should this struggle be placed on an equal footing with the struggles of national and racial minorities and the various oppressed strata of our society? Since we hold that the participation of women is necessary for the victory of the struggle for socialism, it is of the upmost importance that we answer these questions in very precise terms.
Hence, the object of the present debates is not to figure out how to counter a reactionary movement of women who want to return to their traditional role, the family, the couple and children.
Nor are we faced with a movement which upholds division and splittism. To acknowledge that the contradictions between men and women are a reality, that women did not invent them, has nothing to do with promoting division; on the contrary,oo it provides the groundwork for correctly opposing division.
6.1 Our Programme and our line remain correct on essential elements of women’s oppression and on the strategy for their liberation. We must nevertheless work systematically at developing, implementing and clarifying certain questions for which we have not yet found satisfactory answers. It is by developing our line that we will contribute to the progress of the struggle, including within our ranks.
It remains correct and fundamental to state that the emancipation of women requires the abolition of capitalism and the establishment of socialism up to communism. In this sense, it is correct to state that the struggle for the emancipation of women is dependent on the struggle for socialism. This also implies that the struggle of women requires the leadership of the proletarian party. At the same time, in order for the party to attain its objectives and play its role fully, it must act and be organized in such a way as to facilitate the full participation of women.
Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that the struggle for socialism does not encompass all aspects of the women’s struggle. The women’s struggle has its specificity and it cannot be reduced to the struggle for socialism, even if, ultimately, history has proven that the emancipation of women accompanies social progress, the development of productive forces, and hence socialism. This fact justifies the need for specific forms of struggle and organizations for women. As mentioned in our Programme, neither social progress nor socialism automatically vaults in women’s liberation. This is what raises the question of the relationship between the struggle for socialism and the struggle for women’s liberation, especially since the struggle for socialism is impossible without the participation of women.
We must continue to defend that the material bases which make the liberation of women possible are: access for women to socially productive work and the abolition of the present division of work within the framework of the family. In other words, these material bases make women’s liberation possible, but this does,not mean that this liberation flows automatically from the participation of women in socially productive work.
We must bring our analysis of women’s oppression up to date and develop our analysis of all forms of women’s oppression. Throughout this work, and more generally in our publications, we must distinguish between the particular situations of various women depending on the class they are in or to which they are linked, and on the level of development of the particular society they live in.
In the same way, when examining the history of the women’s movement, and the action of communists on this question, we must take into consideration the social conditions which prevailed at the time.
To make some progress in clarifying some of these questions, we are absolutely going to have to study the issue of the origins of the oppression of women all over again from square one, It is particularly imperative that the past and present role of the family he explained. Another key point will be learning how the role of women in reproduction contributes to the inequality they suffer.
In conformity with the decisions of the June 1980 Central Committee, we must clarify and rectify some of our positions. With regards to unity, we must remember that men and women of oppressed and exploited classes are both exploited and that this leads them to wage struggles together and to participate in the same organizations. Nevertheless, chauvinism provides objective base for division. Hence, to reinforce unity, it is necessary to struggle against chauvinism and its material bases. The ideology of women’s inferiority does not fall from the sky and it is not artifically maintained by the capitalist class. It corresponds to material privileges which have existed historically and which still exist today; these are the bases for the domination and power which men exert over women (economic and political power, etc.). To oppose chauvinism does not only consist in struggling against prejudices expressed here and there in certain ways of acting; it is struggling against the system of privileges on which this general relationship of domination is based.
Feminism is the expression of the women’s movement of struggle against their specific oppression. Within this movement, there are various ideologies, various political trends which we must clearly identify through concrete analysis. We already know that there are bourgeois feminist trends, careerist trends, and radical feminist trends which consider that men are women’s main enemies, etc. If we proceed this way, we will avoid misunderstandings resulting from the use of a vocabulary which is finally quite specific to us. We will be more clear in supporting the struggles of women for their equality all the while criticizing the specific trends which lead this struggle towards erroneous solutions. We will thus also avoid endorsing the prejudices sown by the bourgeoisie and reactionaries on anti-men “feminists”.
6.2 These perspectives are in line with the June Central Committee decisions; they detail and develop them further:
a) It is necessary to pursue and develop education on women”s oppression, as we are doing with other political questions. This involves that we integrate the history of women’s struggle into our education work on the struggle against revisionism. This means that not only the women, but also the men within the Organization should become increasingly concerned about reading up on this issue, that they should develop their knowledge of the women’s movement, of the various trends within it, and of the strategical and tactical questions that are raised as for the other political struggles and movements.
b) The women in the Organization should have the opportunity of getting together. We must encourage the meetings of female cadres along the same lines as they have developed up until now. These meetings should he very flexible. They correspond to a genuine need of women to talk about the various problems which they confront in their lives. These meetings should continue to bring together small numbers of women. We Should avoid giving them too formal a character.
c) We must coordinate the leadership given women’s struggles within the masses and within our ranks. This requires that someone in the Political Bureau have responsibility for the question of women and unifying all aspects of the struggle.
d) We must consider creating a national commission an women that would intervene on all aspects of this struggle.
e) Our heightened awareness of women’s oppression will bring about transformations. The measures put forward reflect this perspective. But the best measures cannot eliminate women’s oppression within the Organization once and for all, as long as women are still oppressed in society as a whole. This is and will continue to be grounds for continuous and protracted struggle within the masses and within the Organization. One thing is sure: we have no choice but to act. We cannot put off getting involved in this struggle.
The struggle against chauvinism must he waged. This means we must become much more conscious of the consequences for women of the decisions we do or do not make. We must also struggle against chauvinist attitudes and behaviour in debates and with regards to the responsibility for children and domestic tasks. We must also wage the struggle against a sexual division of labour; applying the measures adopted by the last CC is one way of doing so. Our current debates on the type of organization we need must take this aspect of the struggle into account.
The Central Committee calls on all men, in and around the Organization, not to content themselves with intellectual agreement on the need to struggle against women’s oppression. Rather, they must begin to seriously consider the situation of women in all spheres of life; they must discuss chauvinism and the privileges they enjoy with other men and they must struggle to change reality with concrete actions.
f) We must make leadership bodies more accessible to women. This implies modifying our selection criteria for these positions. Up until now, our criteria did not take the situation of women into account. We used to say, “All capacities being equal, we select women”, but this is not enough. Very often, women don’t start on an equal footing with men. We define leadership criteria in the abstract; capacity to synthesize, to stay on top of many responsibilities simultaneously, to make political analyses, to act as a public spokesperson, with a highly-developed sense of individual responsibility, etc. This is enough to eliminate a number of women with important political abilities, women who have contributed to the progress of our work. This also leads to the exclusion of workers and those who don’t totally satisfy these criteria even if they have demonstrated leadership ability in the accomplishment of their tasks. Hence, we must diversify our leadership criteria in order to take into account the contribution of women, their qualities and abilities.
We must also modify the requirements and functioning of the leadership committees, which have been marked by egalitarianism between men and women, and instead make leadership more collective. To do otherwise is to deny that inequalities still exist at these levels and in practice leads to forcing women to wage a one-sided struggle against their own hesitations. We must nevertheless acknowledge that this contradiction will surely persist for a long time.
g) We must therefore hold advisory women’s conferences that could take stands and vote on resolutions that would be presented to the various leadership bodies and that would be made widely known.
6.3 It remains very important to carry on our work in the struggle against women’s oppression and with the organizations in the women’s movement, in accordance with the orientations adopted by the last Central Committee in June 1980. This work is also necessary for the progress of our research and analysis, which should not and cannot be cut off from our work in the masses.
 “struggle against egalitarism”, we mean the struggle we have undertaken to take into account the different situations of comrades in the Organization (age, work, family responsibilities, education. etc.) in assigning tasks.
 For a more detailed presentation of our line on the question of women, see the supplement to to issue no. 119 of the newspaper IN STRUGGLE!.