First Published: The Guardian, April 9, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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It is unfortunate–although not entirely unexpected–that the October League would choose to respond to Irwin Silber’s-column on International Women’s Day in the way they have. Since the piece in question appeared only two weeks ago, Guardian readers can judge for themselves whether or not it was “an unprincipled attack and slander against the OL.”
The OL seems to have learned nothing from their errors on International Women’s Day, despite realities which should be self-evident to every honest person. For the OL to continue perpetuating the fantasy that the 4000 women and men who participated in the mass action at Union Square were marching in a “CP demonstration” is an absurdity that defies belief.
Since the OL has chosen to justify and compound its original sectarian error rather than engage in the honest self-criticism required, the perpetuation of this unsound appraisal is, of course, obligatory. In the final analysis, the OL’s “case” rests on whether or not the Union Square action was the “march of opportunists” they characterized it as in their newspaper, The Call, or whether it was–as we believe the facts amply demonstrate–a broad-based action encompassing a wide spectrum of forces whose principles of political unity constituted an appropriate minimum basis for the participation of anti-imperialists and communists.
Like their small-group action at the UN on International Women’s Day, the OL’s response to the criticism offered them is irrelevant. The rhetorical thunderbolts hurled at Soviet social imperialism and modern revisionism in their reply are intended to obscure the real situation.
The fact is that many hundreds of anti-Imperialists and communists–including two independent anti-imperialist contingents–played an active role in the Union Square demonstration, effectively advancing the very same slogans and demands that Klehr and Wells suggest were the exclusive property of the action they initiated.
In addition, no honest person can deny that the overwhelming majority of people who participated in the Union Square demonstration were women and men sincerely committed to the struggle for democratic rights for women, that these included a sizable percentage of working-class and third world women and that the general temper of the demonstration was far more militant than the revisionists and reformists who had played a leading role in launching the action were comfortable with.
The OL may choose to attack the straw man argument of “united action with the revisionists” all it wants. The real question is: Where does the OL stand on united action with the broad masses who do not yet have a Marxist-Leninist perspective and who may still he under the influence of revisionists and reformists?
Others–anti-imperialists and communists–who actively participated in the Union Square demonstration [including many with whom the Guardian has significant political differences], demonstrated in practice that revolutionaries must go where the masses are rather than retreat into comfortable ivory towers that are ideologically “pure” but woefully isolated.
It was no easy task for these forces, straggling for an anti-imperialist line within such a coalition, trying to unite with the just demands of the masses while exposing the role of the revisionists. It is a tribute to their perserverance and principled stand that the demonstration took on a distinct anti-imperialist aspect and that the political line they held–not so different from that piously enunciated by the OL above–was brought to broad masses of women and men.
The OL cites last year’s demonstration in Chicago as an example of where they did good united front work. We agree with them and it was a shortcoming of Silber’s piece that he failed to mention it. But we would like to ask the OL: Did the Chicago demonstration point out in its call that “the main threat to peace in the world today [is] the contention and competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union In their drive to control the world?” Did the Chicago action have as “a basis of unity, opposition to imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East?” Isn’t your criticism of the Union Square demonstration for failing to make these points of unity sheer demagogy designed to provide a left cover for what is, in essence, a rightist non-struggle attitude toward the demonstration?
Further, you say that the CP and the RU “were excluded from the planning committee” for the Chicago action ”based on their failure to uphold the line and slogans of the march, in particular the demand in support of the Equal Rights Amendment.” Does this mean that you would have organized a “united action” with the CP and the RU if they had endorsed the line and slogans of the march?
The OL charges Silber with ”slander.” Is it not slander for the OL to charge that Silber “rise[s] to the CP’s defense” when there is not a single word in his article that even remotely suggests such a stand?
The OL faults Silber for pointing out that the mass action included many demands “concerning the concrete needs of working-class and third world women,” saying that the CP is adept at advocating reforms. But why did the OL eliminate the first part of the same sentence which pointed out that the mass action emphasized “support for national liberation struggles, an end to CIA and corporate intervention abroad, freedom for political prisoners” as well as the above-mentioned concrete demands?
The OL charges that “Silber fails to make one single criticism” of the CP’s line or actions in his column. But the article was a comment on the role of the OL and it is simply ingenuous for the OL to try to divert attention from its own shortcomings in this fashion. Even more to the point, however, the OL totally ignores the fact that the Guardian’s special International Women’s Day issue, a mass circulation issue distributed free of charge at the Union Square action, carried an extensive full-page analysis of “revisionism and the woman question” under the heading “Critique of CPUSA.”
The OL charges the Guardian with “attempting to cause demoralization and confusion within die ranks of the groups participating” in the OL-initiated demonstration because it withdrew its endorsement. But we ask the comrades of the OL: Did the Guardian in any way try to get other groups to withdraw from the action? Did the Guardian make its action “public” prior to the demonstration? Did the Guardian fairly and honestly report on the United Nations demonstration in its roundup of International Women’s Day activities?
What comrades Klehr and Wells fail to address is the specific criticism made by the Guardian of the OL’s undemocratic violation of the decisions of the very coalition they initiated. For as Silber pointed out in his column, the OL unilaterally abrogated the decision of their own coalition to seek a basis of unity with the forces organizing the mass Union Square action.
The OL accuses the Guardian of failing to be self-critical while totally ignoring this precise point of criticism.
Yes, the Guardian made certain mistakes around International Women’s Day. We took too long to make an independent investigation of our own on the proposed demonstrations, merely taking the word of the OL and some of its friends that the Union Square action was “a straight-up revisionist” enterprise. We failed to unite our own staff early enough around the political questions involved which would have enabled us to join with other communist and anti-imperialist forces working within the Union Square demonstration where we could possibly have made a useful contribution.
Unlike the October League, however, we have learned from these mistakes. We won’t make them again.
The Guardian remains committed, as it always has been, to the struggle for the full emancipation of women. We see this as a revolutionary struggle, one that is intimately and inexorably bound up with the struggle against imperialism. Despite the harassment of sectarians of all kinds, we will not abandon our principled stand against revisionism and for the building of a new communist party in the United States.