First Published: Bolshevik, No. 1, May 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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This year’s work around International Working Women’s Day was the scene of intense two-line struggle as genuine Marxist-Leninists and advanced forces struggled against Trotskyism, revisionism and right opportunism, particularly of the Workers Viewpoint Organization. The Anti-Imperialist Coalition (AIC) in New York was composed of representatives from the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization, the Revolutionary Bloc, Revolutionary Workers League, Resistencia Puertorriquena, February First Movement and the Puerto Rican Student Union. Struggle against the bankrupt Menshevik lines of the WVO and the October League by the coalition was continued at a forum that pulled from 500-600 people on “Party Building and the Woman Question.” The struggles inside the coalition has great significance in the U.S. Communist Movement as our understanding of Menshevism, particularly of WVO went from a lower to a higher level.
At the forum, open polemics on the floor represented intense two-line struggle as Bolsheviks and advanced forces systematically struggled to uncover and expose the Mensheviks. WV failed to come forward and defend the premises, their “strategic thinking” on party building. They failed to speak to four initial questions put on the floor: key link, periods, fusion and “two tactics.” Their inability to speak on questions requiring the application of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung Thought to the U.S. conditions flows from their line that “ideological line” is key. Given their line, they are incapable of dealing with concreteness. Instead they are very vague and defensive. Comrade Lenin says,
When we speak of fighting opportunism, we must never forget a feature that is characteristic of present-day opportunism in every sphere, namely, its vagueness, diffuseness, elusiveness. An opportunist, by his very nature, will always evade formulating an issue clearly and decisively, he will always seek a middle course, he will always wriggle like a snake between two mutually exclusive points of view and try to ’agree’ with both and to reduce his differences of opinion to petty amendments, doubts, good and pious suggestions, and so on and so forth. (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, vol. 7)
Advanced forces participating in the coalition and others attending the forum played an important role in the polemics waged from the floor. How true Comrade Lenin’s words telling of “those advanced workers who were Social Democrats, many of them even taking personal part in the disputes.” For those, such as WV, that hold the advanced are only “open to socialism,” and from this, that the unity of Marxist-Leninists is principal should grasp firmly the lessons from IWWD. The polemics were not “too advanced” for the advanced as WV in disdain have claimed. The advanced, in stride with Marxist-Leninists openly polemicized against Menshevism, upheld the key link by hammering out in fierce opposition to WV the correct line, placing party building in the forefront of each question thereby strengthening the fusion of Marxist-Leninists and advanced. Resorting to sophistry and demagogery, WV, in recourse, sought to attack those advanced elements revealing their true contempt for mass revolutionary criticism.
As was their manner in the coalition, as is the manner of spineless opportunist forces, WV, when clear the majority in the audience were not to be drugged by theoretical abstractions and quoting the classics out of context, left the forum in a petty bourgeois frenzy as do all withering traitors of the class.
Members of the Menshevik October League and the Congress of African People knew of the forum and had come to some of the coalition meetings. In the coalition their opportunist lines were struggled with until they were forced to leave as the coalition purged itself of opportunist forces. Given the growing strength of Bolshevism against Menshevik lines of WV and OL as represented in the coalition and forum, the OL tried to wish the coalition and forum away. In the April issue of the Call in an article entitled, “Women’s Day Celebrated as Workers’ Holiday in Cities Across U. S.,” O.L. failed to mention the work of this coalition at all.
The work of the O.L. and WV around IWWD saw these Mensheviks trying to “build the mass movement” as opposed to the vanguard party and hide anything linked to communism from the mainly intermediate and petty-bourgeois elements they focus their work on. For example, in a cultural event WV sponsored for IWWD, comrades were not allowed to bring in communist literature. WV said they did not want communist literature in the event because the majority of people there were Chinese, which would make them seem like a “fifth column.” This analysis flows from their right line on party building and the Chinese National Question. This Menshevism is outright bowing to the bourgeoisie and liquidating the task of communists under the guise of obeying the law.
They also held a so-called mass rally (which was really a wake) in which they were able to pull only about 40 people, mostly from their organization.
The O.L., on the other hand, participated in another coalition in the city, held a march and rally and were a part of the Black Women’s United Front conference call for a Multi-national Women’s United Front. In their work, O. L., like WV, wanted to hide from the forces they work with that party building is our central task, that we stand for proletarian revolution and the seizure of state power. This is clearly pointed out by O.L. in their paper when they criticized CAP for putting forth the need for a vanguard party in IWWD work. The O.L. said,
CAP further conciliated with these opportunists by failing to put forth a firm program of its own on the immediate demands for democratic rights that were the focus of the debate. This was reflected in the march and rally as well, where CAP used the slogan, ’Build the Vanguard Party,’ in opposition to the coalition’s broader democratic slogans like, “Free Todd and Woods!” or “Build the Fightback.” (Call, April issue, page 5)
Lenin in State and Revolution criticizes opportunists like the O.L. who try to hide MLMTT from the working class. He says, which clearly gets at the O.L. and WV that,
At the present time, the bourgeoisie and the opportunists within the working-class movement concur in this ’doctoring’ of Marxism. They omit, obliterate and distort the revolutionary side of this teaching, its revolutionary soul. They push to the foreground and extol what is or seems acceptable to the bourgeoisie.
This criticism Lenin puts forth clearly describes the treacherous Menshevik actions of both the O.L. and WV. These modern day Mensheviks have a lack of faith in the masses and fear their initiative. These hypocritical traitors are fundamentally opposed to the masses. No amount of talk about “fighting back,* “building mass movements to prevent fascism,” can cover up the fact that it is the highest form of treason to belittle in any way the pressing importance of the building of a granite Bolshevik Party, steeled since its birth in the struggle against opportunism and steeled in the Bolshevik principles of democratic centralism.
The October League and Workers Viewpoint Organization are treacherous Menshevik traitors to the working class. The work in the AIC and the forum represented heightened vigilance against the treacherous Menshevik line within our ranks. Comrades staunchly upheld the Bolshevik line and the unity of the revolutionary wing was strengthened through the heat of class struggle.
The following is the leaflet for the AIC developed by the revolutionary wing for the coalition. Comrades and friends are also urged to read the IWWD speech by the revolutionary wing on “Party Building and the Woman Question” in the April issue of Palante as well as the statement of the FFM and PRSU on IWWD in the same paper.
To commemorate IWWD and raise its revolutionary banner today means to see it in relationship to the central task facing all genuine Marxist-Leninists and advanced elements in this country - the task of building a Bolshevik Party to lead the struggle of the masses in providing a correct political resolution to the burning questions (e.g. Trade Union, National Question, Youth and Student Movement, Strategy and Tactics), including the woman question, in order to overthrow the bourgeois state and replace it with the dictatorship of the proletariat. This task cannot be fulfilled unless we grasp the key link for Party Building, today being political line. Political line which represents our concrete analysis of burning class questions, is hammered out in the heat of class struggle. It is this struggle that forges firm unity and not sham unity - and that brings the line and program of action of the Party into being. Grasping this means implementing the two simultaneous tactics of uniting Marxist-Leninists and winning the advanced to communism and propaganda as the chief form of activity. This is why failing to see IWWD in this light is not recognizing the woman question as a class question, not deepening the understanding of woman’s oppression in this country, not concretizing correct demands for resolving this question and objectively uniting with the revisionist and social feminists, which see the principal contradiction that between men and women and not between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. This struggle draws firmer and clearer lines of demarcation between genuine Marxist-Leninists and opportunists and revisionists, while winning the advanced.
IWWD originated in NYC in 1908 when women garment workers demonstrated and battled for better working conditions, shorter hours, benefits, and higher wages. It was a heroic life and death struggle against the exploitation of capitalism where women workers were attacked and beaten by the police. They fought militantly and won in response to the fact that 146 women were killed in a fire because the factory owner of the Triangle Shirtwaist factory kept the doors locked to prevent any kind of job action by the workers. We must learn from this rich lesson in struggle against imperialism in order to fulfill our revolutionary duty of overthrowing it. Working women have historically seen their struggle against their particular oppression as women not as a separate movement but have seen- it as part of the overall class struggle, a struggle of the working masses against capitalism. The Farah and Oneita strikes are evidence of this fact. These strikes were led by oppressed nationality women.
The oppression of women goes back to the historical development of classes, where at one time the women held a principal role in production under primitive communalism on equal part with men, but with the development of private ownership of the means of production and consequently the development of exploiter and exploited, masters and slaves, bourgeoisie and proletariat, in other words, classes, women became subordinated to men. Thus the resolution of the woman question internationally is a component part of the class struggle against U. S. imperialism and Soviet social imperialism.
Women have always been oppressed, but the question of women as a major social problem was raised only under capitalism. It forced women to step out of their houses and as there is nothing sacred under capitalism, it made a market commodity of women who became an object of bloody exploitation. Women being twice oppressed under capitalism (triple oppression for nationality women) became doubly exploited. Under these circumstances the problem of women could not but emerge as one of the most pressing problems of the time. (Problem of the Struggle for the Complete Emancipation of Women)
Women’s emancipation, her equality with man is impossible and will remain so as long as women stand aloof from social production work and confine themselves to private household work. The emancipation of women will be achieved only when they will take part in production, on a wide scale, on a social scale and when they will devote only part of their time to household work,” (Engels)
Marxism-Leninism teaches us that the problem of women and the road to complete equality with men can only take place through socialist revolution and the development of a proletarian state. This is why commemorating IWWD means raising the central task of party building and the key link today being political line to lead the struggles of masses against the onslaught of the bourgeoisie. But inside the communist movement, the opportunist forces are saying that the woman question “has nothing to do with party building,” that IWWD is a “holiday so let’s celebrate it,” that the Equal Rights Amendment will put women on an “equal footing” with men (under capitalism), that “democratic rights” for lesbians must be upheld, etc. In fact, these forces, led by WVO’s right opportunist line, have hid under “socialist covering.” Lenin has a correct reply to these hypocrites.
Let the liars and hypocrites, the dull-witted and blind, the bourgeois and their supporters hoodwink the people with talk about freedom in general, about equality, about democracy in general.
We say to the workers and peasants: Tear the masks from the faces of these liars, open the eyes of these blind ones, ask them
–Equality between what sex and what other sex?
–Between what nation and what other nation?
–Between what class and what other class?
–Freedom from what yoke, or from the yoke of what class?
–Freedom for what class?
Whoever speaks of politics, of democracy, of liberty, of equality, of socialism, and does not at the same time ask these questions, does not put them in the foreground, does not fight against concealing, hushing up and glossing over these (class) questions, is of the worst enemies of the toilers, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, is a bitter opponent of the workers and peasants, is a servant of the landlords, tsars, capitalists. (Lenin, “Women and Society.”)
Let’s look clearly at this question of the E.R.A. This bill is a conscious plan of the bourgeoisie to eliminate women from the labor force, under the cloak of “equal criterias” for both sexes; split the working class; and divert the struggle of the working class and working women into reformism.
The E.R.A. would eliminate the “protective” laws which working women have fought hard to get. Such laws, which for example restrict the amount of weight a woman is required to lift, or the hours she can work, are a reform which has provided at least a minimum of help in some conditions.
Eliminating these laws enables the factory owners to fire women workers if they refuse or are unable to do these things.
At a time when thousands of women have been laid off, and the ranks of the unemployed are swollen, the bourgeoisie resurrects the sham E.R.A. – which has been an issue in Congress since 1923. The working class has never fought for the E.R.A. – the bourgeoisie re-raises it in order to cover their plan to lay off even more women. At the same time, they use the E.R.A. to capture the revolutionary sentiments of the working women and channel it into reformism and struggle against working class men. They try and hide the fact that the source of the problem is the bourgeoisie’s exploitation and oppression of the working class. Only social reformers, pacifists, liberals, opportunists, and Trotskyites and revisionists support the E. R. A. Let the agents of the bourgeoisie – the opportunist hypocrites defend the E.R.A. As communists we must uncover its treachery.
The IWWD Coalition provides us with a good example of the struggle against the right opportunist line on Party building and the woman question. This opportunist line manifested itself in struggling for unity of action with the revisionists; in raising only U.S. imperialism and not Soviet Social Imperialism for principles of unity; in raising support for the E.R.A.; in separating the woman question from Party building.
WVO’s “unity of action” with revisionism and petty bourgeois feminists jumped out clearly in the coalition. In the initiation of the coalition the only forces WVO invited were the Trotskyites, Centrists, and revisionists, these “spineless beings” who had participated in the Socialist Feminist Conference with them. WVO stated, “we uphold our work with the Socialist Feminists, we uphold our work with the revisionists in the CP-USA Coalition last year.” Not once did they speak about upholding any work amongst working class women.
As struggle against revisionism and right opportunism intensified, revisionist and opportunist forces, one by one left the coalition as the coalition began to purge itself of marsh forces. With the intensification of struggle against right opportunism, WVO resorted to formalism and bourgeois maneuvering. For example, when WVO was asked to speak to their line on party building, they said we should only deal with practical tasks and not party building, line struggle. Also, they packed meetings for votes since they thought they could not win the coalition over through line struggle. Throughout the Coalition WVO belittled the role of Marxism-Leninism and the genuine wing; they failed to uphold in practice the leading role of propaganda in this period; they failed to uphold the need to unite Marxist-Leninist and win over the advanced to communism; and they failed to engage in thorough criticism-self-criticism.
Workers Viewpoint displayed a philistine attitude towards struggle as the struggles intensified and their opportunist line was being uncovered. As their tricks were exposed by the coalition, the WVO failed to continue struggling and instead walked out of the coalition, following the other spineless marsh forces they had brought into the coalition. The struggle with the marsh forces represented the struggle against the revisionist line on the woman question and all class questions that is being waged by genuine Marxist-Leninists.
The revisionists, spearheaded by the “CP”SU and their puppets, the “CP”USA have betrayed the Marxist-Leninist principle on the woman question, as they have done on all class questions. Their anti-Marxist lines have manifested themselves in keeping women away from production and confined to household duties and by diverting the attention of women away from the struggle against imperialism. The revisionists have treated the problems of women in the spirit of bourgeois pacifism. They publish magazines where they promote extravagant fashions, cosmetics, and advertisements.
At the Council of the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF) in 1962, the “CP”SU put forward that “fighting against imperialism kept women away from the WIDF,” that “we should use language that could attract women in the WIDF and not frighten them” like a world without arms, without armies, without wars, preaching peace thus nourishing all kinds of pacifist illusions about imperialism thus liquidating the just struggles of the Third World against U.S. Imperialism and Soviet Social Imperialism.
Once again, at the opening ceremony of the International Meeting of Women in Minsk, the bourgeois romanticists’ line on the woman question came forward nakedly by P. M. Masherov, candidate member of the politbureau of the CC-“CP”SU. He said,
it is much more important to take care of our women, their health and strength, and to cherish such unique qualities of theirs as femininity, gentleness, delicate and subtle perception of the world, the inherent kindness and responsiveness of a mother’s heart....Woman with her warm loving heart and gentle hands has been destined by nature for goodness, for creation, for peace. (Soviet Woman, Nov., 1975)
These were the views pushed by the revisionist and opportunist elements in the coalition. One by one these lines and their exponents were exposed and the correct line put forward by genuine Marxist-Leninists and advanced forces held firm. As the coalition purged itself of marsh forces, we said they could go to the marsh alone, we refuse to follow and fall into the swamp.
Comrades, we must learn from our Chinese comrades on the Marxist-Leninist view on the woman question:
Since the oppression of women has its social roots in private ownership and class exploitation, a thorough change in the unequal status of working women can be achieved only through revolution, through the elimination of private ownership and the exploiting classes. Precisely because of this the great task for the complete liberation of women falls on the shoulders of the proletariat whose historic mission is to eliminate private ownership and class exploitation. Hence, womens’ liberation must be a component part of the proletarian revolution. Since the women’s rights movements of the bourgeoisie pursue ’equality of sexes’ in form, and do not take into account classes and class struggle and are divorced from the social revolutionary movement, they can only side-track the women’s liberation movement. (Women Hold Up Half the Sky)
The principles of unity of the coalition are reflective of the task that we have as communists to put forward a program of how we will fight against exploitation and oppression of women. In keeping with this, we raise the following demands: jobs, not imperialist war; equal pay for equal work; smash the ERA; full unionization of women; end discrimination in hiring, firing and promotion based on nationality, sex and age; end forced overtime and speed-ups; end forced sterilization; an end to testing of birth control on oppressed nationality women; end the triple exploitation of oppressed nationality working women; free child care services; maternity leaves with compensation pay and free maternity care and decent delivery services; the right to free abortion; fight the fascist, degenerate, ”sexist and chauvinist culture; no prosecution and an end to slander of women who defend themselves against rape; the right of women to bear arms; support the national liberation struggles of the Third World and defeat the superpower hegemonism of U.S. imperialism and Soviet social imperialism.
Comrades, let’s fulfill our tasks!
THE WOMAN QUESTION IS A CLASS QUESTION AND A COMPONENT PART OF PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION!
Anti-Imperialist Coalition for International Working Women’s Day – Revolutionary Workers League, PRRWO, Resistencia, Revolutionary Bloc, PRSU, FFM