First Published as a pamphlet: n.d. [1977?].
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
The issue of women’s rights has emerged as one of the most widely-discussed questions in almost every country in the world. Here in the U.S., it is hardly possible to read through a national magazine or newspaper without seeing several articles discussing the pro’s and con’s of women’s rights.
While “women’s liberation” has become a fashionable topic among ruling class circles, the real conditions of the masses of women’s lives in die U.S. have continued to deteriorate, along with the living standards of all poor and working people.
For example, President Ford, as well as many other politicians, have found it necessary to “go on record” against the Supreme Court Decision legalizing abortions. While he and other ruling class spokesmen hypocritically take this stand in defense of the “right to life”, the government, through its county hospital and welfare system, has increased its policies of forced sterilizations, cutbacks in health and medical services and elimination of government-funded childcare services.
Faced with increased discrimination, unemployment, social service cutbacks, and attacks on their families, many women have become part of the growing fightback movement aimed against the imperialist system. Important workers’ strikes have been battlegrounds, such as the Farah strike in Texas, where Chicana women stood up against the company, the police and the courts demanding the right to unionize, decent wages, working conditions and an end to discrimination. This strike and others like it have set a militant example for other working people all over the country.
Basing themselves on the militant traditions of great freedom fighters such as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, women have emerged as leaders in the fight for democratic rights and against racial discrimination. Women like Joan Little have symbolized the demands of women and oppressed nationalities against the system’s brutal policies of discrimination and police repression.
Women in the U.S. have had inspiring examples set by their sisters around the world. The great victories gained in the last year by the national liberation movements in Indochina, Africa and Palestine have brought forward the role of women fighters who have seen their emancipation inseparably linked with the emancipation of their people. This sentiment was well-expressed by Nguyen Thi Trad, representative of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to the U.N.-sponsored Conference of Women: “Emancipation of women is basically a political struggle against colonialism, imperialistic exploitation and aggression...”
The U.N. Conference, held in June, 1975, was the result of the widespread recognition and support gained around the world for the struggle of women. It served to spotlight the position and struggle of women as a serious international concern and united the majority of delegations present in the exposure of the two biggest imperialist powers, the U.S. and Soviet Union as the main oppressors and exploiters of women and all oppressed people.
The U.N. Conference also clearly displayed the two roads to women’s liberation and, in fact, the existence of two women’s movements. One movement, represented by the vast majority of Third World and other countries signifies the genuine strivings of women in alliance with all oppressed people for an end to imperialism and its policies of national oppression, discrimination against women, hunger, poverty and war. The other so-called “women’s liberation” movement, represented most clearly by the delegations of the U.S. and USSR, was shown to be one that advances the interests of the privileged few, upper-class women, urging the masses of women to rely on the “generosity” of the imperialists themselves to grant women equality. These two movements continue to represent a sharp two-line struggle on the woman question all over the world.
Who are the forces that make up these two movements? What is the correct strategy for women to achieve their emancipation? Who are the friends and who are the enemies of the women’s struggle? These questions are the most burning ones facing the women’s struggle.
The woman question is fundamentally a question of class struggle. This is due to the fact that women are overwhelmingly part of the working class and oppressed nationalities. They face a common enemy with all other oppressed and exploited people. Women can only liberate themselves by joining forces with the working class and oppressed nationalities in overthrowing the capitalist system. Women’s liberation is not only a task for women, but must be a component part of the program for working class emancipation.
The unity of the women’s struggle with the class struggle and their common objective to overthrow capitalism is based in the understanding that women’s oppression emerged simultaneously with the rise of private property and class society. Out of the break-up of the earliest primitive communal societies emerged slavery, a system based on the concentration of slaves and other forms of wealth in the hands of a few men.
The slaveowners constituted the first ruling class to exist in human society and in order to safeguard their property, found it necessary to abolish mother-right, or the right of women to own and pass down their belongings. A new system of inheritance was established, where private property was passed down according to male descent.
While this development of society marked the beginnings of the enslavement of women, it and all other developments from feudal to capitalist society have raised the living conditions of humanity as the productive forces such as tools, knowledge of science and factories developed. But all previous revolutions that have resulted in social change, while destroying the outmoded social systems, did not and could not free the millions of women from their bondage. They merely succeeded in replacing one ruling minority with another, leaving the masses of men and women to be further oppressed and enslaved.
Monopoly capitalism, or imperialism, based on the rule of a small handful of billionaires, continues to thrive off the degradation of women. Much of the wealth of the Rockefellers, Morgans and other ruling class families in the U.S. has been derived from the exploitation of women’s labor in the factories and mills. It is this imperialist class which has benefitted from women’s unpaid labor in the home and the imperialists have filled the textbooks, literature and media full of their propaganda preaching the ”inferiority” of women.
At the same time, capitalism has also given rise to the conditions for the complete emancipation of women. It has pushed forward the only class in history that must liberate all of humanity by emancipating itself. This is the historic mission of the modern-day working class.
Capitalism has also brought millions of women into the factories for the first time in history. It has brought them out of isolation and increasingly into the mainstream of political activity and class struggle. The millions of women in modern-day society form a powerful army in the fight against capitalism and the movement for socialism.
A living example of women’s liberation can be found in the concrete realities of women’s lives in socialist countries-countries which have overthrown capitalism and established the rule of the working class. The Peoples Republic of China and Albania are two good examples.
Mao Tse-tung, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party and one of China’s great leaders said after the victory of the Chinese Revolution in 1949: “Times have changed, and today men and women are equal. Whatever men comrades can accomplish, women comrades can too.”
With this encouragement, and backed up by the workers’ dictatorship, women in China have gone on to make historic gains in the short 27 years since China’s liberation. Under the socialist system many steps have been taken to free women from their historic role as “domestic slaves” and their isolation from political life. Women have been brought into the factories in greater numbers than ever before-and on the job they are given equal pay and treatment as the rest of the workforce. Not only have women excelled in jobs never available to them before, but they have come forward as leaders of the working class in many political movements.
Making life easier for women to work and take part in the political life of the country has also been a task in socialist China. The revolutionary government has set up a system of free, 24-hour daycare for working parents, public dining halls open to workers and their families and other services. The result of these programs has been the continued development of women leadership in every facet of society, including the Chinese Communist Party and the People’s Government.
Socialist Albania is also living proof of the advancements women can make once capitalism is overthrown. Prior to the victorious revolution in Albania, women lived under feudal conditions – often bought and sold as property. The revolutionary government not only changed the lives of women by bringing them into production and the political life of the country, but also waged nation-wide campaigns against backward ideas and practices that held women back. Albanian communist, Vito Kapo, President of the Albanian Women’s Union, expressed the importance of women’s liberation to building the new socialist society:
The complete emancipation of the women is neither a ’gift of charity’ nor a favor that the ’stronger’ sex accords to the weaker sex but an imperative necessity for socialism and communism. That is why comrade Enver Hoxha [Chairman of the Party of Labor of Albania] points out that this revolution will be the work of men and women, of the entire society that marches toward communism. He points out, ’No one can claim to be free if he fails to fight for the liberation of others and, first and foremost, of the Albanian woman.’
These examples of the genuine liberation of women are also living refutations of the dead-end road of bourgeois feminism. With the blessings of the imperialists, the bourgeois feminists have set themselves up as the “spokeswomen” for the so-called “movement for women’s equality” – a movement that does not represent the interests of the overwhelming majority of oppressed and exploited women.
Representing the interests of a tiny minority of upper class women, the bourgeois feminists such as Bella Abzug of the National Women’s Political Caucus and Gloria Steinem of MS., aim at getting a “bigger piece of the pie”-more women bankers, corporation presidents, etc. These feminists are quite willing to sell the majority of women’s interests down the river for a government-appointed position or a seat in the Congress.
While the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) represents a legitimate legislative reform, advanced in the wake of militant struggles of women throughout the country, the bourgeois feminists glorify this and other legal reforms as the sole arena for struggle on the woman question. In spite of the fact that the Civil Rights Act and other legal reforms have not substantially changed the conditions of minorities or women, the bourgeois feminists continue to insist that “women’s legislation” is the answer to women’s problems.
While some bourgeois feminists assume a more “radical” cover, their essence is still the same. Some feminists attack men as the enemy, denying the reality that the majority of men are victimized by women’s oppression rather than the beneficiaries of it. Other “radical” feminists offer the masses of women homosexuality and other decadent “counter-cultural” life-styles. While these life-styles may appear “chic” or “avant-garde” to a small circle of middle-class women, the masses of women have rejected these alternatives as escapist and anti-family schemes, which can do nothing to change the actual conditions that women face.
The masses of women have opted for unity with men in the struggle against the capitalist system and its policy of discrimination. Many men have also come to see that taking up women’s demands for equality must be an important part of the demands of the workers’ movement as a whole. Many workers have experienced a strike being busted due to the company’s threat: “If you strike, or if you organize, we will bring in women to take your place.” The low wage scale forced on women workers and their position as a vast labor reserve used at the whim of the imperialists, have been used as a club against the labor movement as a whole.
The low wages women workers are paid has served to lower the living standard of all working class families. The welfare system with its “Man in the House” rules and other anti-family policies has served to split up millions of families, particularly those of the oppressed nationalities.
Unity of men and women in the struggle against women’s oppression and imperialism as a whole does not mean that backward ideas and practiced based on the ruling class view that women are inferior must not be criticized. Neither does it mean that women cannot act independently or form their own organizations. Like any oppressed group, women cannot rely on any handouts or favors. They must be their own liberators. But it is important to recognize that the source of women’s oppression lies in the material exploitation of women under capitalism, and will only be finally eliminated with the complete destruction of classes and class society.
Rejecting the leadership of the bourgeois feminists and their empty calls for “equality”, the genuine movement for women’s liberation in the U.S. has continued to grow and cement firm ties with its allies. Besides contributing to the unity and struggle of the workers’ movement, women, particularly minority women, have built close ties between the women’s struggle and the struggle for liberation of the oppressed nationalities in the U.S.
Both movements face a common enemy in the imperialist system, and the victory of both movements lies in the overthrow of the system and the establishment of socialism. Minority women, who face the severest oppression under capitalism, have helped to revive some of the most militant history of women’s struggle in the United States. This message has been brought to millions of people through the struggles of Joan Little, Cheryl Todd and Desi X. Woods – all Black women who have been the victims of racist and sexual attacks and have stood up to defend themselves.
In response to the bourgeois feminists’ call to restrict the movement to narrow “women’s demands” it should be pointed out how the history of national oppression in the U.S. from slavery onward has linked the struggle for freedom of Black and other minority women to the freeing of their entire people. Minority families, which suffer the hardest from the anti-family policies of the ruling class, have also rejected the anti-family and anti-children line and other escapist theories of the feminists.
The anti-imperialist character of the genuine women’s movement brings it into alliance with the vast majority of working and oppressed people throughout the world who have formed a broad united front against imperialism, particularly, the two superpowers. The two superpowers are not only the enemy of the women of the world, but are the oppressors of a vast number of nations in the Third World. Today, the contention between these two superpowers for world domination provides the greatest source of the threat of a new world war, a war that would take a great toll on women of all countries.
Both superpowers have actively tried to squelch the growing movement of women. One of their main propaganda weapons has been to blame all the starvation, wars, sickness and poverty on women for having too many children. Both the representatives from the U.S. and USSR tried unsuccessfully to get this view adopted at the U.N. Conference on Women. The U.S. delegate warned about a “population explosion” that would bring a “catastrophe” to mankind. The Soviet delegate echoed that “rapid population growth is a millstone around the neck of the developing countries.”
It is no surprise that the “overpopulation” accusations have been limed particularly at the Third World countries, who have been the main force opposing imperialism’s aggression and domination throughout the world. At the Conference on Women, it was the delegates of the Third World nations who took the lead in exposing this overpopulation myth.
They pointed out how it is the two superpowers which go around the world and plunder the poorer nation’s natural resources. They exposed the imperialists’ policy of slave wages paid to workers in the Third World, their policy of unequal loans in the name of “aid”, and the two superpowers’ blatant disregard for the territorial integrity of smaller countries. They asked, “How can our problem be overpopulation when a Third World country like China has over 800 million people and no starvation?”
Both superpowers have gone to great lengths to separate the struggle for women’s liberation from the fight against imperialism. They try to outdo each other in portraying themselves as the great “benefactors” of women. At the U.N. Conference, the U.S. delegate kept repeating over and over that women’s problems are “non-political.” The Soviet delegate took another approach, saying that “detente is opening up favorable prospects for women’s equality.” Both representatives aimed their pleas at convincing women that “detente” between the big powers would create the conditions for women’s equality to be granted as a favor.
The Soviet Union, in particular, likes to portray itself as a “friend” of women. While the Soviet Union was in fact the first country to experience a socialist revolution, a new bourgeoisie arose which seized leadership of the Soviet Government and the Communist Party. These modern Revisionists, over the past twenty years, have used their power to restore capitalism.
One of the hallmarks of this restoration has been the re-enslavement of Soviet women, who enjoyed equality for nearly 50 years under socialism. Recent Soviet publications have stated: “As may be seen, during the first decade, our country demanded the participation of women in production. Today, however, this necessity does not exist.” And further, ”At the present economic stage, it would probably be more reasonable to leave the women free at home to look after their children.”
The Soviet revisionists especially like to capitalize on the genuine desire of women for peace. They are in the forefront pushing the myth of “detente” and disarmament. But under this shabby veil of pacifism lies real intentions – the most extensive build-up of offensive nuclear and conventional weapons that has brought the Soviet Union even above the military strength of the United States. It is clear that the present situation in the world is marked by the growing danger of war rather than by “detente.” The myth of “detente” is being spread only to disarm the people of the world and cover up the crimes of the superpowers.
The Soviet Social-Imperialists have their representatives within the U.S. in the form of the revisionist Communist Party U.S.A. The role of these so-called communists is to promote the interests and influence of the imperialists within the working class and other progressive movements. The role of the CPUSA within the women’s movement is to attempt to turn it into a reserve of support for the aggression and war schemes of the Soviet Social-Imperialists and to promote reformism and electoral struggle as the road to women’s liberation.
One way the revisionists do this is to promote the view of “detente,” urging women and the Third World peoples to rely on superpower negotiations for their freedom.,/p>
By spreading pacifism, the CP revisionists attempt to whip up fear in women-that a war “will turn the world into an atomic wasteland.” While shedding “tears” over this possibility, the CPUSA throws its full support behind the arms build-up and war plans of the Soviet Union. Simultaneously, the revisionists urge women around the world and in the U.S. not to struggle against imperialism for fear of bringing about “a nuclear holocaust.”
A good example of the CPUSA’s betrayal is their activities on International Women’s Day. This working-class holiday, introduced by the great German communist leader, Clara Zetkin, in commemoration of the struggles of New York women garment workers, has historically been a day to bring forward the important struggles of women and to express working class unity against imperialism. The revisionists, after ignoring this holiday for many years, revived it in New York in 1975. Calling for a demonstration under the slogan of “Peace, Equality and Development,” they formed a bloc with the Democratic Party reformist politicians as well as with some bourgeois feminists and their narrow “no struggle” program to attack the genuine anti-imperialist activities that were being held under the slogan of “Imperialism, Not Overpopulation is the Cause of Hunger, Unemployment and Women’s Inequality.”
On International Women’s Day, 1975, and again this year, in 1976, the existence of two separate International Women’s Day activities has brought forward the two-line struggle in the women’s movement distinctly to an increasing number of people. Can the emancipation of women be achieved through the pro-imperialist, no struggle road? Can it be achieved through reforms and elections? Or, is class struggle and revolution the road to freedom?
The answer to this question can be found in the growing numbers of women and men who have become an active part of the genuine anti-imperialist movement for women’s emancipation.
The forces that have been leading the women’s movement in struggle against the imperialist system are found in the new communist movement that has emerged in struggle against the betrayal of the revisionist CPUSA. In many significant strikes and other battles that have involved women, communists have been there to point the way towards working class unity and the final aim of socialism. But until the communist forces can be organized into a single, united communist party, this leadership is bound to be uneven and limited.
Therefore, there can be no more important role for women to play than that of being a member of a communist organization such as the October League and a member of the new communist party that will soon be built out of the present communist forces.
The building of a new party will mean an even greater push forward for the women’s struggle. The new party will have the full participation of leading women fighters who will take part in all forms of communist activity on an equal basis with men. The new party will have special bodies to oversee and direct work among the masses of women and special programs to train women in the study of Marxist-Leninist theory.
It is only under the leadership of a new communist party that will truly represent the interests of the millions of working and oppressed people in the U.S. that the genuine movement for women’s liberation can continue to grow and develop.
The movement for women’s equality cannot advance without a clear understanding of who is the enemy and without the unity of the women’s struggle with that of the working class and oppressed nationalities. But we do not limit our demands to abstract calls for socialism. The systematic denial of women’s democratic rights, every aspect of women’s oppression under imperialism, must be fought not only by women, but by the entire working class movement. The imperialist crisis, with its growing war danger, sky-rocketing unemployment, and intensified oppression of the minority nationalities has also had its special effects on the masses of women.
Taking up an immediate program for struggle on the woman question is key in mobilizing large numbers of women fighters into the fightback and other progressive movements.
In addition to raising the slogans, FULL EQUALITY FOR WOMEN, DOWN WITH IMPERIALISM, and SUPPORT THE STRUGGLES OF THE THIRD WORLD, a fighting program for women must also raise demands speaking to the over-all discrimination facing women and oppose the increasing fascist attacks directed at women and working class and minority families.
One of the key aspects of women’s oppression is their use as a reserve army of labor – utilized by the capitalists even in the most prosperous times as cheaply paid labor and, in the majority of cases, denied even the most basic protection workers can attain through unionization. The soaring unemployment rate has especially affected women workers – from the jobs lost due to runaway shops, sweatshops that have closed down, and lay-offs in all the major industries. Virtually all the gains achieved towards women’s equality in basic industry have been wiped away by the massive layoffs – the inroads into auto and steel are gone, and certain unions like the USWA have tried to ram the “Consent Decree” down the workers’ throats, asking workers to sign away any future right to protest discrimination in exchange for $250.
Women workers in all categories earn less than 60% the wages of men workers, with minority women earning minimum wage or less. This gap is steadily increasing, not decreasing. The recent increase in minimum wage rates was far below what is required to keep up with imperialist triggered inflation rates and it is still nowhere near an adequate level.
Discrimination in wages is not limited only to working class women – recent studies show that even women with college degrees earn less than men with similar levels of education or less.
Demands aimed against discrimination must call for JOBS OR INCOME to include better wages and unionization for working women, adequate unemployment compensation for women no matter what their previous incomes had been, and increases instead of cutbacks in welfare and food stamp programs.
Our program should call for an end to sweat-shop conditions for women workers – an end to piece-rate cutbacks that are intended to squeeze even more profit from women’s labor, and an end to repressive absentee policies.
Where applicable, we must fight for compensative seniority measures for women and minority workers that would be a step toward correcting their “last hired, first fired” status. The entrance of women into the workforce has had a profound impact both on the working class and women’s movements – women’s participation in socialized production is an important factor in their political activity and development. We must demand that the government and bosses pay for past discrimination and inequality, not men workers, and we should oppose the imperialists’ current efforts to drive women back out of industry and into their homes. This must be done in the interests of women’s equality and building the united fightback of the working class.
Other measures that would improve the unequal status of women, such as progressive legislation like the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), should be supported. At the same time, any attempt by the factory owners to use the ERA to do away with needed protective laws must be opposed.
Another important aspect of the effects of the crisis on women has been the marked increase of fascist attacks aimed at women and the working class and, most sharply against minority families. Blaming poor women for having “too many children,” the ruling class has increased the number of forced sterilizations of women – using the method of blackmailing welfare recipients with threats of cutting them off unless they cooperate, or done without any knowledge of the victim.
This has given the government’s encouragement of the so-called “right-to-life” movement a hollow ring. The right to legal and safe abortion was won through the struggle of millions of women who were, and still are faced with a system that does not allow many families the necessary income to raise their children. And with the current crisis, the attempt to take away this right can only mean increased hardships for many people – as well as reviving the dangers women face at the hands of the “street abortionists.”
The ruling class has also developed two new “innovational” additions to the already-infamous welfare system: the bounty system which requires women seeking welfare to authorize arrest papers for the father of her children, and such programs as California’s WIN (Work Incentive) which is a forced-work program at slave wages for welfare recipients and the unemployed.
California, Ohio, Nevada and other state legislatures are considering the legalization of prostitution - the bourgeoisie’s “alternative” to women seeking a way to make a living and feed their families.
The growing threat of fascism is also reflected in the growth of fascist-type organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, the Nazi Party, the mounting campaign to deport foreign-born workers and, especially, the developing segregationist movement.
The segregationist movement has physically attacked the families of minority women – but this fascist movement poses a threat to all women as well.
Segregation of working people has been a major obstacle to developing unity in the fight for quality education, housing and living standards. While fascist leaders like Boston’s Louise Day Hicks demagogically pretend to represent the interests of white working people, their opposition to the democratic rights of minorities reveals their real allegiance to the monopolists who reap the benefits from discrimination.
Hicks has aimed much of her appeal to “white women” and “white mothers.” Seizing on the genuine concern of women for the growing unemployment, crime and family disintegration, Hicks has tried to focus women’s anger against minority people rather than the ruling class which is responsible for all these things.
It is this anti-working class position of Hicks and others like her which have won them favor from ruling circles and brought them national “prominence” – not her so-called “concern” for white working people.
It is in the interests of women and all working people to oppose these fascist, pro-segregationist “leaders” as agents of the enemy who are attempting to divide and set back the growing fightback unity and the struggles of all oppressed people for their democratic rights.
The genuine movement for women’s liberation is growing rapidly. In the past year alone, a tremendous movement was built to free Joan Little – and she was freed. A mass movement is developing for the freedom of Cheryl Todd and Desi X Woods, from the largest cities to the smallest rural towns in Georgia.
A key organization in this campaign has been the Black Women’s United Front. The very formation of the BWUF in 1975 was itself a significant development, focusing attention on the triple oppression of Black women and aiding the development of Black women as leading fighters of the working class, Black Liberation and women’s movements.
The recent formation of the National Fightback Organization has also meant the mobilization of hundreds of women fighters into the Fightback movement, as well as advancing a program of struggle that speaks directly to the discrimination against women in factories, communities, welfare and unemployment lines.
Other important developments have been the continued struggle in the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) by women fighting discrimination in the factories and unions, the growing militancy of women workers demanding unionization, such as the High Tide strike, Capital strike, and many others.
Importantly, every day more and more women activists are joining in the building of a new communist party through the October League and other Marxist-Leninist organizations, as well as the newly-founded Communist Youth Organization.
This year, and every year after, International Women’s Day will be celebrated as a commemoration to women and their allies in the struggle against imperialism. This celebration is a call to all working class and progressive people to fight the special oppression of women and to point out in the course of these struggles how women’s oppression is rooted in the imperialist system.
The road ahead calls for further mobilizing the masses of women, linking their struggle closely with those of the working class and oppressed nationalities and exposing the phoney ”defenders” of women. Through the leadership of a genuine communist party and through their own experiences in the fightback, the difference between the genuine movement for women’s liberation and the revisionists’ and reformists’ sham calls for ”equality” will become clearer to more and more people.