MIA: History: ETOL: Document: SWP-US: 12 National Convention of the SWP-US: Toward a Mass Feminist Movement
Toward a Mass Feminist Movement
Resolution adopted at the Twenty-Fourth National Convention of the SWP in August 1971
Adopted: August 1971
First Published: 1971
Source: Discussion Bulletin of the Socialist Workes Party for the 24th Convention of the Socialist Workers Party.
Transcribed/HTML Markup: Daniel Gaido and David Walters, February, 2006
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2006. You can freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & proofreaders above.
The New Feminism
Few myths are on the surface so irrational, yet at the same time so widely believed, as that of the inferiority of women. For thousands of years, people all over the world have been taught to believe that women are biologically and intellectually inferior to men, with an emotional constitution that makes their acceptance of a subservient role in society natural.
Throughout history, women have rebelled against this, and fought for improvements in their status. But never before has there been a feminist movement as irreconcilable in its opposition to oppression, as radical in its critique of the social forces that breed these inequities, and as potentially powerful a force for helping to end that oppression, as the emerging movement of today.
The most outstanding characteristic of this new movement is its deep-going challenge of every aspect of the oppression of women, including the hitherto unquestioned “sacred” role of women in the family. The fundamental proposition being put forward by feminists today is that it is not biology but social institutions that have kept women “in their place” in the home; that the present-day psychological differences between men and women—and even to some extent their physical differences—have been culturally conditioned, not biologically determined. This bold denial of biological inferiority is part of the unprecedented militancy of feminism today. For the first time in history, large numbers of people are be ginning to grasp the depth of women’s oppression, the degree to which womankind has been systematically stunted, warped, and dehumanized to fit the role of wife-mother-housekeeper.
At the heart of this radicalization of women is the growing contradiction between the tremendous wealth of American society, the fact that the material resources already exist to free women from domestic slavery, and the reality that this is not being done by the capitalist social order. For the first time in history, large numbers of women are becoming conscious that there are alternatives to their present roles.
The consciousness that society is responsible for women’s second-class status is reflected in all aspects of the feminist movement’s activities. It can be seen in the consciousness-raising groups, where women discuss how their personal problems are not the result of their own individual failings, but flow from a basic oppression suffered by all women. It is expressed repeatedly in feminist literature. Most importantly, it can be seen in the actions of masses of women in which demands have been raised for free twenty-four-hour child-care centers, free abortions on demand, and equal job and educational opportunities. If realized, such measures would bring much closer the day when women can make a choice about what they want to do with their lives.
Since the beginning of class society and the emergence of the patriarchal family system women of all classes have been relegated to the confines of the home and assigned the social responsibility of child-raising and housekeeping. Women have never consciously chosen this role, but have been trained from birth to feel that their fulfillment can come only from marriage and child-rearing. Even when women have been forced or have chosen to take jobs outside the home, they have been charged with neglecting their “first responsibility to the family. Thus, women have been prevented from being independent human beings. They have been dependent, both for economic security and for their very psychological identity and estimate of self-worth, on their husbands, fathers, or boyfriends.
The role of women in the family means that the birth of a child commits a woman to years of work and drudgery. Because women lack complete control over the decision to have children, they lack control over their own lives. The vulnerability and dependency which flows from this is an important aspect of every woman’s existence. It helps to reinforce the concept that women are basically powerless.
Changes in the family and the roots of the new movement
Since its emergence at the dawn of civilization, the family institution has evolved and changed according to the different class structures and needs of the systems of slavery, feudalism, and capitalism.
The industrial revolution was a key turning point in this evolution. Industrialization progressively displaced earlier forms of production centered around the family, where goods were produced on the family farm or estate, or in the family shop or small business, and much of what each individual family consumed in the way of clothes and food was produced by the family members. By undermining the traditional productive functions of the family, the rise of industrial capitalism began to undermine the traditional role of women.
Before industrialization, women had almost no identity or life outside of their functions within the family, and few rights. They could not travel, speak in public, engage in politics, go to college, drink in the taverns, or mix in society at large in any significant way. Industrialization began to lay the basis for ending this domestic isolation by creating the possibility of relieving women of their economic functions in the home, and by giving them an independent productive role outside of the home. As mass production developed, for the first time in thousands of years women were drawn away from the family to outside work. Brutal and exploitative as much of this work was, it led to a more and more obvious contradiction between the restrictions put on women in public activities, and the need for them to participate in industry.
The rapid industrialization and urbanization of American society were key factors which led to the rise of the women’s rights movement in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It was part of and a sequel to a general worldwide upsurge in the period of the bourgeois-democratic revolutions against the traditional, inherited privileges of the ruling class under feudalism. In the United States, it grew out of the radicalization preceding the Civil War and got much of its impetus from the abolition movement.
At the first Women’s Rights Convention in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York, a Declaration of Sentiments was passed, which called for women to have “immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.” Specifically this included the right to vote, property rights, freedom from the domination of the husband, the right to have a profession, to go to college, to better wages, and an end to the moral double standard between men and women.
The new rise of the American feminist movement is as much a response to the era of capitalism in its death agony as the earlier women’s movement was a response to the social conditions created by nineteenth-century capitalism.
The demands of the present movement go beyond those of the earlier women’s rights movement, while at the same time building upon the aims and achievements of this earlier struggle. The feminist movement today is still demanding equality—in pay, in opportunity, in the types of options women have in life—but there is a much more radical understanding that real equality cannot be won without the full right of women to control their bodies, without economic independence, and without social alternatives to private responsibility for the raising of children within the individual family.
Whereas the early women’s movement spoke in terms of gaining equal rights within American capitalist society, the feminist movement of today started out by questioning the basic structure and institutions of this society, especially the family. This new level is reflected in the demands raised at the Congress to Unite Women, held in November 1969 in New York City, one of the first major conferences of the women’s liberation movement. It outlined some of the basic goals of fundamental importance to all women that are being raised by the feminist movement: twenty-four-hour child-care centers open to all children from infancy to early adolescence regardless of their parents’ income or marital status, with child-care practices being decided by those using the centers; free abortion on demand, no forced sterilizations—the right of women to control their own bodies; equal job opportunities; an end to the tracking system in education; women’s studies programs; enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act which calls for equality on the job; an end to the derogatory image of women Presented by the media; and passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.
The early women’s rights movement disintegrated after 1920, creating a fifty-year hiatus during which economic and social changes in the U. S. laid the basis for the emergence of the new feminist movement and the more radical demands of today. The giant expansion of technology and industrialization, which has accelerated since World War II, has removed productive activities from the family to an unprecedented degree. The old family farm has virtually disappeared. Modern appliances, frozen and packaged foods, and ready-made clothes are all examples of the degree to which productive activities have been transferred out of the individual, isolated family unit, to be carried out on a mass-production basis.
The role of women is directly affected by these changes in the nature of the family which have narrowed the tasks of millions of housewives to such functions as care of the very young and very old, and janitorial and cooking tasks around the house. Along with this is the fact that the average American woman has fewer children. For tens of millions of women this has meant that for the greatest period of her life, her domestic role consists only of caring for her own and her husband’s personal needs.
At the same time, more women than ever before are working outside the home, despite the fact that they continue to be discriminated against on the job. More than 43 percent of all adult American women are today employed outside their own homes. This represents a major increase from 1960 when the figure was 37 percent, and from 1950, when it was 34. And the percentage continues to increase. Women earn, on the average, 40 percent less than employed males. The best paying jobs, almost without exception, are closed to women.
In addition, women continue to have a double burden—their jobs and their “duties” at home. For working women with children, facing a situation where there are few child-care facilities available, this double burden is especially oppressive.
More women than ever before in history are participating in the process of formal education. Between 1950 and 1966 the percentage of American women aged 20-34 attending schools quadrupled. In the last decade, the number of white women with at least four years of high school climbed from 65 to 80 percent. Among Black women, the figure went from 40 to 61 percent. Hundreds of thousands of women enter the country’s colleges and universities every year. The number of women with some college education rose 160 percent in the last decade, against a 100 percent rise for men. Yet the gap continues to widen on all levels between the education and training women receive, and the availability of job opportunities commensurate with their skills. Even a superior education does not qualify women for most jobs held by less educated men.
Finally, the contradiction continues to deepen between the scientific and technological potential women see for emancipating themselves from the home and gaining control over their lives and bodies, and the fact they are denied this liberation. Technology and resources remain under the control of the ruling class who would destroy humanity; while child-care centers, hospitals, schools, and food centers are not built, and reactionary abortion laws, forced sterilization schemes, and a lack of safe methods of birth control deny women the right to control their lives.
Thus while women see the increased potential to free themselves from domestic servitude, escape the crushing burdens of poverty, and participate fully in the activities of society, they are denied this opportunity. They are told that, unlike men, their identity and worth still come from the degree of their success in finding a husband, settling down in a home, and having children. Just when millions of women see more material possibility than ever to develop, more options than ever for what they can do with their lives, more reason than ever to believe in their own intelligence and abilities, they remain straitjacketed by the basic wife-mother-housekeeper role assigned to females. The thoroughgoing radicalism of the new feminist movement is partly a product of these growing contradictions.
The new feminism is also a product of the broader radicalization taking place in this country, just as the women’s rights movement of the nineteenth century was an outgrowth of the abolition struggle of that time. The civil rights movement, the ghetto rebellions, the student struggles, the massive mobilizations against the Vietnam War, and the changing moods and attitudes of young workers, have all helped to create a political climate conducive to women beginning to question their role in society. Many of the initiators of the women’s liberation movement began to organize around their own oppression as a result of their experiences in other struggles.
Of special importance in sparking the feminist movement was the nationalist radicalization of Black people and other oppressed nationalities who are rebelling against the myths of supposed biological inferiority which have been used to keep them “in their place” The assertion of Black pride and Black power in particular helped spark the explosion of feminist consciousness, pride, and sisterhood which have been necessary to the growth of the feminist movement.
The function of the family
There is no institution in class society whose true role is as hidden by prejudice and mystification as that of the family. Much religious teaching is devoted to reinforcing the monogamous family unit, any deviation from which is labeled as “sin.” The bourgeois scholars of all disciplines have been united in rationalizing the existence of the nuclear family and the oppression of women. Bourgeois psychology has upheld the basic definition of women as dependent and submissive, and has labeled any initiative or aggressiveness on the part of women as “unnatural.” Bourgeois historians have hidden the true history of the struggle of women and have portrayed women activists and political leaders in a way calculated to make it difficult to identify with them. Bourgeois sociologists uphold the subordination of women in the family.
Bourgeois anthropologists perpetrate the myth that the family economic unit has always existed, and that women have always been subservient to men and played a limited social role because of their childbearing. They deny the fact that the origin of the patriarchal family coincided with, and flowed from, the development of private property, class society, and the state. They hide the fact that in early communal societies, the basic economic unit was the clan, not an individual family, and that within each clan goods were shared equally.
The historic turning point in the transfer of the central economic and social functions from the clan to the family came with the development of an economic surplus and individual accumulation of this surplus as private property. Individuals began to separate themselves from the clan and set up separate households. Women became isolated from communal activity, and monogamy for the wife was strictly enforced to assure legitimate heirs.
Today, the patriarchal nuclear family unit remains as the basic economic cell of class society, and women continue to be isolated in individual households, de pendent on individual men for economic survival. For working women, women in working-class family units, and women of oppressed nationalities, the role women are forced into is the most oppressive, both to themselves and their children. They are obliged to accept the worst jobs and have even less access to educational opportunities, child care, safe abortions, or birth control. This means greater economic vulnerability and dependence on a man. The alternative is often welfare. If a woman works, she may have to leave her children uncared for.
The fact that these women suffer most from the oppression of women stems from the fact that the family is one of the basic instruments through which the social and economic inequities between different classes are perpetuated. Under capitalism, the nuclear family is assigned the responsibility for providing for the welfare of its members—food, clothing, health care, child care, education, and care of the old and sick. And each family is thrown into competition with all others to get an adequate share of the available jobs, goods, and services.
An important aspect of the class struggle under capitalism has been the fight to force the ruling class to shoulder more and more of the responsibility for social welfare. Concessions have been won in this struggle, even though all are limited in their scope. They include social security benefits, medicare, free public education through high school, welfare, unemployment insurance, and state-financed colleges. These concessions represent significant advances, but the ruling class is constantly pushing to cut back on even the small gains made, which come nowhere close to providing for basic needs.
The demands being raised by the feminist movement today represent the sharpest challenge yet to the concept that the individual family must take full economic responsibility for each of its members. Demands such as free twenty-four-hour child care available to all begin to place responsibility for rearing children on society as a whole and point in the direction of a fundamental redivision and reallocation of social wealth. The role played by women in the household serves as the chief rationalization for the oppression of women in all other spheres. The unique “duties” of women in the family are used to justify unequal job and educational opportunity, unequal pay, the exploitation of women as sex objects, the discrimination against women in all areas including the arts, sports, scientific research, etc., and the use of women as a component of the reserve army of labor.
The family system also plays a crucial role for capitalism in inculcating the norms and values of the private property system. The nineteenth-century utopian socialist Robert Owen, summarized this function of the family in the following way:
The children within these dens of selfishness and hypocrisy are taught to consider their own individual family is their whole world, and that it is the duty and interest of all within that little orb to do whatever they can to promote the advantages of all the legitimate members of it. With these persons, it is my house, my wife, my estate, my children, my husband; our estate, and our children; or my brothers, my sisters; and our house and property.
Within the patriarchal family, the children receive training in submissiveness to authority, a training which is necessary to an economic system which demands acceptance of the right of the rich to rule. The family is an authoritarian structure, with the man considered the head and the women and children dependent on him. Obedience to the father and to the norms of the monogamous family unit help to prepare the child for acceptance of the ideology of class society. The fostering of a child’s loyalty to the individual family unit is paralleled by the inculcation of patriotism, chauvinism, and religion. The family plays the central role in implanting in infants and children the character structure without which no one could accept the hierarchical, exploitative, and alienating social relations intrinsic to capitalism.
The opponents of the women’s liberation movement maintain that the feminist opposition to the family system is a challenge to the existence of affectionate relationships between people. But in reality, the family system and class society are the real destroyers of genuine human relationships.
Until the bourgeois revolution, among the wealthy and powerful possessing classes the choice of a husband or wife was made strictly on the grounds of economic considerations, usually by the parents of the couple. It was only with the rise of capitalism, with its concept of free exchange and free labor, that the idea of freedom of choice of marriage partners evolved along with other democratic ideas. However, despite this assertion that relationships between husband and wife should be based on free choice and affection, the old economic basis of the marriage tie remained, and along with it the institutions of adultery and prostitution.
The fact that people are free to choose their own partners in marriage does not bring freedom and happiness within marriage any more than “freedom” to sell one’s labor-power means that a worker is truly free. So long as women and children are dependent on the male for their economic existence and psychological identity, they will tend to be subordinate to him in their personal relationships. This means that millions of people who do not want to live together, who often do not even like each other, will continue to live together, because they feel they have no other choice. When feminists oppose the patriarchal family system, they are talking about eliminating this economic compulsion, so that personal relationships will be freed from these economic fetters. A factor which has promoted this radical critique of the family made by feminists today has been the fact that the family has come under attack as part of the general radicalization. More and more people are becoming alienated from the decadent social relationships inherent in the death agony of a society oriented toward labor exploitation, competition, and accumulation of private property. Many, especially young people, are beginning to see the hypocrisy of capitalism’s reverence for the “sacred” family system. They see that while popular magazines and other media praise the ideals of family “togetherness,” the relationships between human beings are distorted by the crassest marketplace ideas.
Husbands and wives are chosen on the competitive sex market; the husband according to his status, the wife according to her value as a sex object. The children are seen as family “products,” with each family making “investments” in its children to prepare them for “success” in the competitive world. This get-ahead mentality is reflected not only within the family, but also in friendships since social relationships are calculated according to what would be most beneficial in the competitive struggle to survive or advance.
The capitalist system itself has been laying the basis for the disintegration of the economic, competitive family unit. The rising divorce rate, the number of children running away from home, the open experimentation with communes and collectives, increasing social acceptance of deviations from the sexual mores of the patriarchal family system, and the increased number of people living together without legal marriage certificates are all signs of this disintegration. The ideological covering that has hidden the true role of this institution is becoming more and more transparent.
The disintegration of the family has also been affected by other products of the continuing technological revolution and urbanization of capitalism including the increased mobility of the population, the breaking down of traditional community ties, and the decline in religion. The “sexual revolution” is a result, not primarily of the pill, but of these broader changes in people’s outlook.
Capitalism produces its own gravediggers in more ways than one. The higher the level of material and technological development, the more obvious it becomes to broader and broader layers of the population that the social forms and institutions of class society have ceased to play a progressive role. On the contrary, they have become reactionary blocks to the further advancement and welfare of humanity.
In this sense, we are on the threshold of a turning point in world history similar to the turning point thousands of years ago when the private property system replaced the communal-clan system. Just as the beginning of class society and private property were associated with the separation of women into individual households, so the transition to socialism will go hand in hand with the emergence of women from their dependence on individual men within the home into full participation in public life and social production.
Revolutionary strategy for the feminist movement
While the early women’s rights movement, which was able to go part of the way in the struggle for liberation, was an aspect and extension of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, the current female liberation struggle—including the demands for the deferred democratic rights of equality—is part of the process of the developing anti-capitalist revolution. The question of how to end the oppression of women flows from, and is tied into, the question of how to end class society. The strategy of the feminist movement must flow from a basic analysis of how capitalism perpetuates itself, and what forces must be mobilized in struggle to eliminate it.
In the United States we are facing the strongest best organized, and most conscious ruling class in history. No small or insignificant force will be capable of taking power from its hands. There are no “individual solutions” for large numbers of people. The struggle must be aimed at taking the resources away from those who control them for personal profit and placing them under the control of the vast majority.
The women’s liberation movement represents the emergence of new forces which have the potential for organizing tens of millions of women in independent struggle. It is a struggle with its own unique roots, dynamic, and demands. But at the same time, the fundamental questions of strategy which the movement poses are not new. They are basically the same strategic questions posed by every developing mass movement. The building of any mass movement requires the understanding that the ruling class in this country maintains its dominance through illusion as well as violence. A key illusion among the oppressed masses that helps perpetuate class rule is the belief that the system is capable of reforming itself and satisfying the needs of the vast majority. It is only through the experience of struggle that it becomes clear to masses of people that they must take over and control society for themselves if their demands are to be fully met. And it is through struggle that the oppressed and exploited begin to see the potential power they have to do this.
A revolutionary strategy for the feminist movement must be based on a program of democratic and transitional demands, rooted in the needs of the masses of women, and part of the broader transitional program of the socialist revolution. A program of struggle around such demands will have a revolutionary logic because it mobilizes masses in struggle against the ruling class and its government. To win such demands in full requires a socialist revolution.
The key question facing the revolutionary-socialist party, then, is how to help mobilize masses of women to fight for their own interests. Around what demands and through what forms can this be done, related to the immediate needs and level of understanding of masses of women?
No full program for the women’s liberation movement has yet been worked out, and it is impossible, at this time, to develop such a full program of demands. However, the broad outlines of such a program have begun to emerge and some of the key demands are already clear.
The right to control one’s body
One set of demands are those centered around the right of women to control their own bodies:
Repeal all abortion laws.
Free abortion on demand, no forced sterilization.
Free, widely disseminated birth-control information.
Free and safe birth-control devices available to all.
A crash program of government-funded research adequate to develop totally safe and effective birth-control and abortion methods.
The right of a woman to decide for herself when and if she will have a child is a fundamental precondition to liberation. So long as a woman cannot control what goes on inside her own body, so long as she remains the victim of state-enforced motherhood, she does not have control over the most basic factors determining her life. Precisely because alternatives exist, the denial of adequate birth control and abortion are among the most brutal aspects of women’s oppression. Millions of women are coming to see this with increasing clarity and to demand changes.
Freedom from domestic slavery
The necessity of freeing women from the bonds of domestic slavery and establishing social responsibility for the important social function of the care and raising of children has given rise to a series of demands:
Free, twenty-four-hour child-care centers, open to all children from infancy to early adolescence regardless of parents’ income or marital status; child-care practices to be decided by those who use the centers. Low-cost, high quality cafeteria and takeout food services available to all. Low-cost, high quality laundry facilities available to all. Low-cost housecleaning services organized on an industrial basis available to all. A crash, government-financed development program to provide adequate housing for all; no rent to exceed 10 percent of income; no discrimination against single women or women with children.
We counterpoise such demands to the ultra-left concept of abolishing or destroying the family. The family as an economic unit cannot be “abolished” by fiat. It can only be replaced over time. Our goal is to create economic and social alternatives which are superior to the present family system and better able to provide for the needs currently met, however poorly, by the family system, so that personal relationships will be a matter of free choice and not economic compulsion.
To assure full economic independence for women we demand:
Equal pay for equal work.
No discrimination against women in any job classification.
Passage of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution and enforcement of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, in order to guarantee an end to all discrimination against women on the basis of sex.
The extension of genuine “protective legislation” (providing special working conditions for women) to cover men, in order to provide better working conditions for both men and women and prevent the use of protective legislation to discriminate against women.
Guaranteed jobs at union wages for all women who are able and want to work. Preferential hiring, training, and upgrading of women and oppressed national minorities, coupled with a sliding scale of hours and wages to combat unemployment and inflation.
Full paid maternity leaves with no loss of job or seniority.
Full compensation at union rates during periods of unemployment for all women and men, including youth who cannot find a place in the work force, regardless of marital status, protected against inflation by automatic increases, adequate to provide a decent standard of living.
In putting forward and fighting for these and other demands of the women’s liberation movement, working women will be forming their own organizations, as well as functioning through the organized labor movement, insisting that the unions adopt these demands as their own. This will be an integral part of the fight to transform the unions into instruments of revolutionary struggle, fighting in the interest of the working class as a whole.
Already a number of major trade unions, including the United Automobile Workers, the American Federation of Teachers, and the American Newspaper Guild, have adopted convention resolutions incorporating demands of the women’s liberation movement for maternity leave, child-care centers, and an end to discrimination against women workers. At the 1970 AFT convention, women delegates formed a caucus to fight for their demands.
Also of significance was the formation, in 1968, of a national organization of women government workers, Federally Employed Women. It now has 1,000 members in thirty chapters across the country. One half of its members are Black women. In New York City, women workers for the municipal government have formed Women in City Government United, which fights against discrimination against women in city jobs, for abortion coverage in women workers’ health insurance, and for free twenty-four-hour child-care centers.
Equal education opportunities
To combat the educational and psychological conditioning which prepares women for an inferior, second-class status, we demand:
An end to the “tracking” system, beginning in the primary grades, which guides women towards socially acceptable courses and careers such as homemaking, secretarial skills, nursing, and teaching.
Open admissions for women to all institutions of higher education; special programs to encourage women to enter traditionally male-dominated fields.
Women’s studies programs controlled by women to teach the truth about women throughout history.
Self-defense training courses open to all women.
The right of pregnant women and unmarried mothers to remain in regular educational institutions.
An end to the textbooks’ and mass media’s derogatory and stereotyped portrayal of women as sex objects, and stupid, weak, emotionally dependent creatures. University facilities for and financing of child-care centers and abortion-contraception services for students and employees.
Because of the key role played by students and young women in the feminist movement as a whole, struggles on campuses and in the high schools can play an important part in helping to spark struggles by other women. The struggle to win control of university facilities to benefit women, such as medical facilities for abortion, and classroom and library facilities for women’s studies, provides an example for the general fight to win control of the resources of society away from the ruling class and its apologists. In addition, the campuses can serve as vital organizing centers for the feminist movement to reach out to broader layers of oppressed and exploited women.
To combat the special forms of legal victimization of women by the police and judicial apparatus, we demand:
Abolition of all special legal penalties for women.
Abolition of all laws victimizing prostitutes.
Full right to conjugal visits.
Review the cases of all women prisoners by a commission of their peers; release all imprisoned or held without fair trial by their peers.
Because women, along with every other oppressed or exploited sector of the population, pay the price of the ruling class’s imperialist aggression around the world, the women’s liberation movement should demand:
Immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Vietnam. No American troops to be sent by the imperialist government to intervene in the affairs of another country.
Abolish the capitalist draft.
Funds previously used for war to be used to finance free child-care facilities, abortion clinics and hospitals, schools, housing, and provide guaranteed jobs at union wages.
Women of oppressed nationalities
The feminist movement recognizes that most Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Native American, and Asian American women suffer a triple oppression—as women, as workers, and as members of oppressed nationalities—and that their struggle will, for this reason, take different forms. Black feminism and Black nationalism, Chicano nationalism and Chicana feminism are complementary aspects of the deepening revolutionary consciousness among millions of oppressed women. The movement of oppressed nationalities and the women’s liberation movement have already had a profound effect on each other.
Black feminism leads Black women to a discovery of their identity as human beings and therefore builds a new confidence and spirit of struggle against all forms of oppression that Black women face. Groups such as the Phoenix Organization of Women, a predominantly Black and Puerto Rican group of m-drug addicts in New York, have played a vanguard role in building the women’s liberation movement. Within all the various Black organizations, discussions and debates are taking place over the question of the relationship of the Black movement to the women’s liberation movement. More and more women of the oppressed nationalities are coming to the conclusion that feminist ideas are deeply relevant to their lives and are organizing to fight their oppression as women as well as their national oppression.
Women’s liberation demands were incorporated by La Raza Unida Party of Northern California as a part of the party’s platform. The same question will be raised in connection with the rise of any independent Black political party or labor party.
The demands already discussed are of great importance to the women of oppressed nationalities precisely because it is they who suffer the most from the domestic enslavement of women and the reactionary character of the patriarchal family system. In addition to these fundamental demands of the feminist movement, women of oppressed nationalities are also fighting—as an integral part of their struggle for liberation as women and as members of oppressed nationalities—for the right of the Black, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Native American, and Asian American communities to control the institutions which affect their lives. Of key importance is the struggle for the child-care facilities, abortion and medical facilities, and schools to be placed under the control of boards elected by the oppressed nationalities themselves.
A perspective of mass action
Around these demands, and others which will emerge in the course of the struggle and the development of the feminist movement, it will be possible to build a mass women’s liberation movement. However, it is not enough simply to have a correct program of demands based on the needs of women. We must also have a correct appreciation of how to mobilize large numbers of women in struggle to win their demands.
Two basic questions must be answered:
1. Given the fact that women are divided by class, race, age, and other factors, what are the possibilities for uniting women in the struggle for liberation?
2. What is the relationship between the feminist movement and other social movements against the oppression and exploitation of capitalism such as the anti-war movement, the movements of oppressed nationalities, the student movement, and the struggles of labor?
Two main incorrect points of view have been put forward within the women’s liberation movement in regard to the first question. There are some women who say that the class and racial divisions among women are unimportant. This tendency is often reflected in the attempt to designate women as “an oppressed class.” Those who hold this view say that all that is needed for the liberation of humankind is a mass independent women’s movement because the oppression of women is primary, other forms of oppression flow from it, and thus all other struggles derive from, or are aspects of, the feminist struggle.
At the other extreme are some women who say that the divisions among women are insurmountable and that there is no basis for uniting women in struggle except around solely working-class demands. Those who hold this viewpoint tend to deny the significance of the oppression of women as a sex and hold that the feminist struggle should be subordinated to and wait for other struggles. They denigrate the battle for democratic feminist demands and cannot see that such demands are in the direct interest of the working class.
The truth is that women are at the same time both united by sexist oppression and divided by class society. There is an objective basis for a unified struggle of women of different nationalities and classes because all women are oppressed as women by capitalism. Sisterhood is powerful because of this universal female oppression, and this is the basis for the existence of an independent, nonexclusive, mass feminist movement, with an anti-capitalist logic.
Women of different social classes suffer to very different degrees from lack of child care and abortion facilities, unequal pay, job discrimination, warped education, and social conditioning. But these are all aspects of the very real oppression of women and all women have a stake in struggling around these issues. The broadest unity in struggle, closed to no woman, is possible and progressive if this unity is based on clearly defined demands which mobilize women in struggle and which combat the oppression of women perpetuated by capitalism. Women of the working class have the most to gain by united struggles around these issues.
Because women suffer different forms and degrees of oppression, different groupings will organize separately, as well as together. Black women, and women of the other oppressed nationalities, will organize as Blacks, as Chicanas, as Puerto Ricans, because they suffer a unique oppression. Working women will organize to further their struggles on the job and in the union. High-school students, college students, women belonging to religious organizations, gay women, and other groups of women are all already showing a need to organize separately around the particular oppression they face. In fact this independent organization is necessary to most effectively mobilize the largest numbers of women in broad-based actions.
Any attempt to disregard either those factors which divide women or those which unite them will lead to misunderstandings and roadblocks in the attempt to mobilize the full power of women.
The answer to the second question, that is, the question of the relationship between the feminist struggle and other movements against the oppression and exploitation of capitalism, lies in the fact that the feminist movement, and the struggle against imperialist war, the liberation struggles of the oppressed nationalities, and the labor movement, must all have one goal in common if their demands are to be realized: the destruction of the capitalist system. So long as production is organized on the basis of private property and profit, so long will the material foundations which gave rise to the family and the domestic servitude of women exist—as well as war, racism, economic exploitation, and alienation. Women have a basic interest in supporting and joining with others whose struggles will lead them in an anti-capitalist direction.
At the same time, the feminist movement is also a struggle which is different and independent from all other movements, because it is based on a unique oppression. The movement therefore has its own dynamic and its own unique course of development. While women need allies, it is only women, organized independently on the basis of struggle against their common oppression and with a correct program of struggle who can win full female liberation. No other movement can substitute for this.
A correct program of democratic and transitional demands for the female liberation movement, an understanding of how women are united and divided, and a knowledge of how the feminist movement is related to other mass struggles points directly to the kind of strategy necessary for advancing the women’s liberation movement. Revolutionary socialists want to be the best builders of the campus women’s groups, Black and Chicana groups, high-school groups, women’s caucuses within unions and on the job, and all the other kinds of women’s organizations which will grow up as women begin to struggle. We will want to be involved in and build the varied activities of such organizations—conferences, actions, publications, and educational and consciousness-raising activities.
Consciousness-raising groups, and the general consciousness raising that comes from being part of a broad movement, can help give women confidence to get them out of the isolation of their homes, and courage to lead independent lives and gain independent identity and strength. Small-group consciousness raising is not an end in itself, but can be a vital part of laying the basis for taking action against female oppression.
The central role of action coalitions and mass mobilizations
In addition to building all the separate components of the feminist movement our central goal is to build broad coalitions based on agreement to struggle around specific issues, like abortion or child care, and having a perspective of mobilizing broad layers of women in action independent of the ruling class and its political parties. Such a mass-action perspective will counter tendencies to turn the movement inward through “living-room feminism” and counter-institutionism, and it will orient the movement toward reaching out and mobilizing masses of women who are ready to fight on issues that are of immediate concern for them, and by so doing, advance the struggle for complete liberation of all women. Such coalitions must be built on the basis of non-exclusion and democratic norms. They must reject lesbian-baiting and red-baiting in all their forms. They must reach out to the largest possible numbers of women, explaining the significance of the key demands being raised, and involving them in action.
The importance of building broad, mass-action coalitions was shown clearly for the first time by the August 26, 1970, demonstrations. Up to that point the organized feminist movement was very small, with the main forces coming from the radicalized student milieu. However, by organizing and publicizing this broad action, by putting forward clear demands and demonstrating around them, by turning out more than 50,000 women in cities and towns across the country, August 26 was a striking example on a national scale of the widespread support that the women’s liberation movement can mobilize.
The August 26 actions helped to cut through the elitist myth that only a handful of middleclass women could understand and act against their oppression as women. Secretaries, high-school women, Black women, women from all walks of life turned out on that day. August 26, and the development of struggles for abortion repeal and other feminist demands in states around the country, have provided an example of the real meaning of sisterhood—that is, the concept that women can unite together as sisters on the basis of commonstruggle . Such actions are important in giving masses of women a sense of their potential power, in inspiring a sense of solidarity, and in demonstrating to women that their problems are shared by masses of others. They also put the onus for tie lack of abortion rights, child care, equality on the job, etc., squarely where it belongs—on the capitalist government.
It is only by making concrete, specific demands on the government—and building mass struggles around these demands—that the government can really be put on the spot, and the roots of the oppression of women exposed. It is only if women confront the government and put forward clearly and concretely what they want, that the capitalist system, and its representatives in Washington, can be exposed as not responding to the elementary needs of the people. And it is only in this way that significant concessions can be won, concessions which help to show that the liberation of women can only come through mass struggle against capitalism, and independent of the capitalist parties.
Such actions as August 26, 1970, and the nationwide demonstration for abortion-law repeal planned for November 20, 1971, are the first steps in the struggle to build a powerful mass women’s liberation movement. This struggle will be a prolonged process with many twists and turns, successes and setbacks. Only through such a prolonged experience of struggle for feminist demands—by seeing concretely how the power of women can win victories, and by seeing how the ruling class will try to hedge on and retreat from granting these concessions—will large numbers of women gain the political understanding that is necessary to carry the battle through to a successful conclusion.
Opponents of a mass-action perspective
Opponents of the perspective of building a mass-action women’s liberation movement around feminist demands include reformists, sectarians, and ultra-lefts.
Reformism in the women’s movement is based on the belief that it is possible to win liberation under capitalism, and logically leads to reliance on those responsible for perpetuating this system to grant liberation. It leads away from the independent organization of women to fight for the needs of women, and thus away from mass struggle aimed at the capitalist state.
The ultra-lefts and sectarians reject struggles around the basic demands of the feminist movement on the grounds that these demands are not “radical” enough or do not explicitly oppose the capitalist system. Because they do not see the revolutionary dynamic of struggles around concrete issues such as child care, abortion, maternity leaves, equal pay, etc., they have no program which can mobilize masses of women who do not yet see their enemy as the capitalist system itself.
Both ultra-leftism and reformism make the fundamental error of ignoring the most important task of women’s liberation: that is, the creation of a powerful, mass, independent women’s movement. Neither sees the dynamic relationship between struggles for immediate gains around issues such as abortion that directly affect women and the attainment of full female liberation.
The anti-mass-action tendencies in the feminist movement can be very roughly divided into four categories. The first category includes those sectarian women who came out of the “New Left” milieu around the now-disintegrated Students for a Democratic Society. The second includes two kinds of utopian idealists: counter-institutionalists and what can be designated as “living-room feminists.” The third is the traditional-type reformists and liberals. And the fourth category includes several “socialist” tendencies, the largest of these being the Communist Party.
Many of the founders of the first feminist groups around the country were women who came out of SDS or its general milieu, and they often brought with them the sectarian and ultra-left views of SDS. A good number of these women have remained active in the feminist movement, and while their ideology has gone through considerable flux and change, there are a number of main ideas which characterize their approach,
They hunt for shortcuts around the long, hard job of building a mass movement. To the revolutionary perspective of organizing mass struggles around the basic needs of women, they counterpose “anti-imperialist” or “socialist” sloganeering. They often insist that the feminist movement must, from its very inception, be consciously socialist or anti-capitalist. For example, the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union has written into its statement of purpose that all members must be anti-capitalist.
Another characteristic of these forces is the attempt to turn the women’s liberation movement away from fighting for feminist demands by insisting on substituting other issues and demands. For example, at one point last fall some groups turned all their energies toward organizing for the Black Panther Party convention in Washington and discontinued activities which would bring new women into the feminist movement. Many of these women also reject student struggles around feminist issues on the false grounds that these struggles are not important to the most oppressed and exploited layers of women.
A second major group has been quite aptly designated as “living-room feminists.” The main characteristic of this tendency is that they want to make the movement a substitute for the inability of capitalist society to create an unalienated personal life. They orient toward making women’s centers into “living-room-like” areas, where small groups can meet together in supposedly unalienated relationships, and they become nervous when more women get together than could fit into a living-room. Cell-16 in Boston is one example of this tendency to reject any kind of large-scale organization of women.
Common among living-room feminists is a hostility to materialist explanations of female oppression. Most of them believe that the oppression of women has grown up in society, not as a result of class oppression, but because men took advantage of the fact that women had the children in order to make slaves of them, and because men personally benefit from the subjugation of women. Many see the oppression of women as being the basis for all the different types of oppression of capitalist society.
Because many living-room feminists think that female oppression stems from the way individual men and women think, they tend to concentrate on small-group consciousness raising as the chief method for changing society. They believe that liberation can come from changing people’s minds, as opposed to changing social institutions.
Relationships between individual men and women in this society are not relationships between equals; and individual men are often the direct agents of perpetrating many forms of discrimination and oppression from which women suffer. The women’s movement, however, cannot be aimed at simply trying to change men, or to make them renounce their privileges, any more than the Black liberation movement can succeed if it is aimed at “reforming” whites. All forms of male chauvinism and sexism must be condemned and fought against and the existence of a powerful feminist movement will have an impact on men and help force them to change. But any orientation of the women’s liberation movement towards attempting to create unalienated, completely fulfilling human relationships under capitalism is doomed to failure. It can only end in frustration because it is impossible for either men or women to completely remake themselves in this society.
In relation to the question of “renouncing privileges” and attempting to create an unalienated atmosphere within the feminist movement, the living-room feminists and the New Left ultra-lefts have much in common. Both counterpoise the necessity of intellectually understanding one’s oppression to a perspective of mass action to end it. Both reacted to the 1970 August 26 demonstration in a sectarian manner. They felt that the women marching there were “low level,” and didn’t fully understand their oppression. They felt that the demands raised on August 26 “weren’t radical enough.” Both also tended to reject alliances around August 26 with groups such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) because they disagreed with many of the women in NOW on other questions.
Related to the living-room feminist approach is the perspective of changing society by building counter-institutions, that is, trying to create islands of a perfect new society within the context of the old society. The counter-institutionists oppose making demands on the government or on existing institutions of society. Instead, they say, women should use their own resources to set up child-care centers, abortion counseling, private women’s liberation health clinics, clothing exchanges, food coops, and loan societies. There have been some benefits to a few women from such activities. But the building of counter-institutions is no alternative to—and is often a conscious retreat from—building a mass worn en’s movement to win liberation.
The women’s liberation movement by itself does not have the basic economic resources to meet the needs of masses of women, For example, it is possible through abortion-counseling and small-scale abortion clinics to provide for some needs of a limited number of women. But the goal of the feminist movement must be to struggle for the right of every woman to have control over her body. And it is only possible to do this by fighting to see that hospitals and medical facilities are used to this end. Similarly, it is necessary to fight for control of the educational complexes and facilities, as well as the industries and businesses which discriminate against women.
The attempt to change society through the creation of counter-institutions reflects a middle-class and utopian outlook. It is only the relatively privileged women who have the resources and time to create their own child-care centers and other institutions. Moreover, if the counter-institutions are built with a “serve the people” perspective of providing for working women and poor women and children, this orients the movement in the direction of philanthropic social work.
The heart of the struggle for liberation is not towards counter-institutionism, but towards fighting to wrest the vast resources of the richest country in the world away from the ruling class, so that these can be used for the greatest welfare of human beings. Anything less than this political struggle means coexistence with an exploitative system which continues to make its decisions on the basis of what is profitable to the ruling class.
A parallel error is that of attempting to find personal liberation through the formation of collectives and communes. One of the most powerful aspects of the current radicalization of women has been the rejection of the kinds of dehumanizing relationships imposed on men, women, and children by capitalist society. The experimentation with collectives and communes is an example of this rejection and an effort to find something better. But these attempts can have no chance of success as an alternative to the capitalist system because, even in communal living arrangements, some still have to perform alienating labor outside the commune to support nonworking members, and some—often the women—have to prepare food, wash clothes, clean, and take care of children. Until this society is transformed into one in which production is organized on the basis of human needs, and not private profit, it is utopian to think women can win complete liberation.
The third basic political category within the movement is composed of the traditional liberals and reformists who rely on the Democratic and Republican parties to change society. Most prominent among these non-socialist reformists are some women in NOW, and such capitalist politicians as Bella Abzug and Shirley Chisholm. We can anticipate that the efforts of the liberals to orient the movement toward support for capitalist party politicians will increase as the feminist movement grows and becomes more of a force. This pressure has a cyclical character, rising as elections approach, receding in years when there are no major political contests. As we approach the 1972 elections we can expect that the “off the streets and into capitalist party politics” pressure will increase.
Instead of supporting capitalist party candidates, the feminist movement must expose these parties which are among the main institutions upholding this sexist racist capitalist society. Women have nothing to gain by working through the Democratic or Republican parties, or by supporting “lesser evil” or women candidates within these parties. The Democratic and Republican parties are completely controlled by the capitalist class of this country, and are structured to perpetuate this control. Any attempt to work within these parties will contribute to the illusions that masses of women have about the system. The job of revolutionary women is not to reinforce the illusions that masses of people have in the capitalist ruling parties, but to expose the fact that these parties and the economic system they represent cannot provide liberation.
Many of the women in the feminist movement who orient at one time or another to the Democratic Party, either through lobbying or campaigning for a political candidate, are women who can be involved in building independent mass actions around basic women’s liberation demands. Although these women will often switch back and forth—depending in part on whether it is an election year or not—they can often be won to support mass actions. Some of these women can become convinced through their experiences that the Democratic Party is a trap, and we can expect to win many of them to a revolutionary perspective.
Communist Party, Progressive Labor, International Socialists
Without exception, all the reformist socialist tendencies have exhibited one or another degree of hostility towards the women’s liberation movement.
Progressive Labor completely rejects the feminist movement on the basis that the only valid women’s struggles are those which are waged by women workers around narrowly conceived job issues.
International Socialists have a more confused approach, which changes from time to time and is different in different parts of the country. But all of their various wings fail to understand the full revolutionary implications of the rise of the new feminism. They underestimate the role which students and young women out of the student milieu can play in initiating and building the movement, and they try to orient to what they narrowly conceive of as struggles which relate to working women.
The Communist Party in a whole series of articles and statements has shown quite openly its hostility toward feminism. Their attitude is expressed most clearly in their assertions that the feminist struggle is less important than other movements and in their reactionary defense of, and romanticizing of, the family.
The Communist Party’s hostile attitude toward feminism flows from their general perspective of supporting the Soviet bureaucracy’s attempts to coexist peacefully with world capitalism, their reformist perspective for all American mass movements, and their defense of the Soviet bureaucracy’s reactionary domestic policies. For one thing, feminism represents a challenge to the subordinate place of women in the Soviet Union. It doesn’t take a feminist very long to figure out that the role played by women in Soviet society is not what we are fighting for.
Secondly, the CP fears all potential mass struggles in this country which could pose a real threat to the ruling class and upset the world equilibrium of the “great powers.” The Communist Party does not see this period as a time when forces capable of actually making a revolution are being assembled and organized independent of the ruling class. As they see it, the perspective we have before us in this country is not one of revolution, but of assuring the ascendancy of the liberal, pro-peaceful-coexistence wing of the capitalist class. They think of all independent movements against oppression in terms of how they can channel them into supporting and putting pressure on the liberal wing of the capitalist class. They are afraid of feminism because—like the nationalism of the oppressed nationalities—it poses itself so sharply against not only the conservatives, but the liberals as well.
What the CP fears most is a mass, fighting women’s movement which struggles for “unreasonable” demands that the capitalist liberals cannot meet. And they are the strongest opponents of the perspective of building such a movement. We know that as the movement grows bigger they will adapt to it more and more and their opposition will become more astute. They will use both sectarian and ultra-left and utopian approaches as well as try to Orient the movement toward giving support to Democratic Party candidates such as Shirley Chisholm and Bella Abzug.
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All four of the above political categories are united in one way: they are all opposed to building the feminist movement in a way which could attract masses of women and orient them toward independent struggle.
The New Left the living-room feminists, and the counter-institutionists all either organize in such a way as to keep the movement invisible to the masses of women, or around issues and demands which do not have the potential for organizing masses.
The reformists, instead of building a mass, independent movement, look ultimately to a reformed or re-aligned Democratic Party and the capitalist rulers to give women liberation.
Supporters of all four anti-mass-action tendencies have, in many cases, used red-baiting attacks against the SWP to cloud over the real political disagreements they have with the SWP and other supporters of a mass-action Perspective. Instead of taking up the political differences involved, they picture SWP women as socialist dupes of the “male-dominated” left, coming in to “infiltrate” and “take over” the feminist movement.
Such charges are echoes, within the feminist movement, of the charges of the reactionaries during the McCarthy era. The purpose of the red-baiting is to try to avoid discussion of the real political issues, to prejudice people against carrying on an open discussion with supporters of a mass-action perspective, be they socialists or not by branding them as “Reds” or “Trots.”
The only way to end such red-baiting is to explain what is really behind it. The issue is not one of the SWP “taking over” the movement in an undemocratic manner, but of real political disagreements. In fact, the SWP has a record of being the most consistent fighter for the maintenance of democratic procedures within the movement.
Red-baiting, and the exclusionism that flows from it represents a danger to the entire feminist movement by making free, democratic discussion and organization impossible. In carrying out the activities of the feminist movement, it is of great importance that there be clear, calm, democratic discussion of perspectives, unclouded by red-baiting, so that the greatest number of women possible can be informed about the real issues, and can help participate in determining the strategy of the movement not on the basis of prejudice or hearsay, but on the basis of complete and open discussion.
The feminist movement has experienced an explosive growth in the last two years. From a few small circles meeting together to discuss the deep-going problems women face in capitalist society, it has already expanded to a movement composed of hundreds of organizations and capable of mobilizing tens of thousands of women in the streets. In addition to all the groups organized around the needs and interests of specific groups of women—high-school, campus, gay, Black, Chicano—broad action coalitions have been built in at least a dozen cities and states.
Women in the Socialist Workers Party have participated in the activities of these organizations and done our best to build them and win them to a perspective of organizing and appealing to the broad masses of women.
Around the country the SWP has participated in actions built around all the central demands of the move men. We’ve been fighting for women’s studies, against sexism in advertising, for high-school women’s rights. We’ve helped organize Black, Chicana, and other Third World women’s activities and groups and we have organized to support struggles opposing discrimination against women on the job. Child care is another issue we have helped to organize around, especially in fighting for child-care centers on campuses.
In the course of these struggles and experiences, it has become clear that at this time the abortion fight is the issue which is attracting the largest numbers of women and the greatest enthusiasm. Abortion projects and coalitions have sprung up all over the country and many of these groups are reaching out to very broad layers of women, including church groups, unions, and Black groups.
In response to these struggles, opposition to the right of women to have unrestricted access to abortions is also building up. The efforts of many reactionary groups are centered around the antiabortion fight. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church in particular is investing huge sums of money in this effort, taking out advertisements in newspapers and organizing demonstrations. In those states where liberalized laws have been passed, the legislatures, city governments, and conservative forces have continually fought to take back even the limited gains made.
If women are going to continue to win victories in the struggle to gain control over their own bodies, much less prevent the ruling class from taking away those gains already made the women’s liberation movement must make the abortion fight the central focus of activity in the coming period. The feminist movement must intervene decisively in this growing national ferment and discussion over the issue of abortion and focus its energies on mobilizing hundreds of thousands of women to fight for repeal of all laws restricting the right of abortion along with the demand for no forced sterilization. The broadest possible coalitions should be built to carry out the struggle, so that the real feelings and power of the masses of women can be brought to bear. Within this broad mobilization, there is a necessity to educate on the importance of winning free abortion on demand, a demand which is in the interest of the great majority of women, and which is necessary if women are to win the complete right to control their own bodies.
Abortion is an issue that affects millions of women in the most immediate way. Victories around this issue will be very important in showing the growing power of the women’s liberation movement in proving to m asses of women that the feminist movement is serious, fighting around issues which are of concern to all women. A successful fight to make abortions available to all women would have a tremendously liberating effect and help to raise the whole movement to a higher level. It could serve as an inspiration and an example for struggles over other issues and enable the movement to take the next, powerful step forward around further demands.
Our most important task in the period ahead will be working with other women to inspire and educate about the central political importance of the abortion fight, and building a nationwide abortion movement which can have a real impact and win significant victories for women.
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In addition to the fight around the abortion issue there are a number of other specific tasks which are of importance in the coming months.
One is to continue our activity to build the feminist organizations and activities of Black women, Chicanas, Puerto Rican women, and other oppressed nationalities. As the debate on feminism continues to deepen within the nationalist movements we want to continue to be the champions of the position that nationalism and feminism are complementary, not contradictory struggles; that they will strengthen and advance each other. Through our publications, forums, election campaigns, speaking tours, and other activities we want to take an active part in this debate.
We also want to continue and deepen activities in building campus-based women’s liberation groups, high-school organizations, and citywide organizations. Building campus women’s liberation groups is a key task, since the campus groups are the largest and fastest growing sector of the movement.
We should continue to educate within the movement on the importance of the war as an issue of vital concern to women. The success of the April 24 United Women’s Contingents were a clear indication of the correctness of this perspective. Those women who are convinced of the need to mobilize and act against the war are going to be among the best builders of a mass feminist movement around other concrete demands of concern to women.
Building the 1971 and 1972 socialist election campaigns is the party’s central educational vehicle to explain and mobilize around these perspectives. The SWP is the only party that fights unequivocally for the liberation of women, and which has a program to achieve that end. SWP election campaigns have proved an effective way of reaching out to literally millions of women with the ideas and demands of the feminist movement. SWP candidates, both men and women, have become known as campaigners for women’s liberation, and our campaigns have played an importanh role in winning new women to ideas of the SWP. Through women’s support committees for the 1972 campaign in particular we will be able to win many women to the revolutionary socialist movement.
In the past months we have put out a tremendous amount of literature about women’s liberation, including regular articles in The Militant and theInternational Socialist Review . Many of these have been reproduced in pamphlet or book form. The sales of all our literature concerning women’s liberation is an important task.
Subscriptions to and sales of individual copies of The Militant are especially important because this is the place where we put forward a week-by-week analysis of the activities and perspectives of the movement, where we can help build national feminist campaigns, answer attacks against us or the feminist movement, take part in discussions, and raise general consciousness about the roots and causes of women’s oppression. And it brings readers our analyses of all the basic political issues of today, giving them a perspective on the relationship between the struggle for women’s liberation and the struggle for socialism.
There is an entire range of educational activities we engage in which are of particular importance. In addition to building public forums and internal education on specific questions as they arise, members should be encouraged to read the women’s liberation press and consciousness-raising literature. Both external and internal classes on women’s liberation should be organized regularly.
Finally, significant numbers of activists in the women’s liberation movement have begun to join the SWP and YSA. We have an especially important job in educating these new forces, giving them a thorough grounding in our program and integrating them into all aspects of SWP activity. The best of the new generation of feminists will be attracted to the Socialist Workers Party and the Young Socialist Alliance; within the SWP they can develop into revolutionary-socialist politicians in the fullest sense.
The revolutionary party
The combined power of all the different social struggles which are emerging in this country will be needed to constitute a force strong enough to overthrow American capitalism and establish a workers state, based on and fighting for the needs of the vast majority of the people.
Although the women’s liberation movement has the potential of organizing tens of millions of women in independent struggle, it is not by itself capable of destroying the capitalist system and thereby laying the material foundations for the destruction of class society and the liberation of women. Such a successful struggle can only be achieved through the politicalization, radicalization, and mobilization of the masses of working people of this country.
Only a revolutionary Marxist party, composed of the most conscious fighters from all the oppressed and exploited of our society, and based on a transitional program capable of mobilizing a mass anti-capitalist struggle, can hope to lead this revolutionary struggle to victory. Only such a party can develop a perspective and program for bringing together the diverse struggles that are emerging so that their potential anti-capitalist striking power can be unified.
So long as capitalism exists it is impossible for either women or men to gain full dignity and humanity, other than by fighting against oppression. It is with that perspective that we try to win the best of the new generation of feminists to the Socialist Workers Party, to raise their consciousness to revolutionary socialist consciousness, and to organize and inspire the masses of women to fight to change society.
While a socialist revolution is a precondition for the complete liberation of women, a socialist revolution cannot be complete until women are totally free. The development of a powerful women’s liberation movement now, before the socialist revolution, means that this movement will not only strengthen the struggle against capitalism, but will also be a powerful stimulus in the period of the construction of the new society to revolutionary changes in the family system and other institutions which oppress women.
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The essence of being “feminine” has always meant the opposite of asserting control over one’s life. Women have been trained to be passive, weak, submissive, self-sacrificing, gentle, emotional—in short to think of themselves as being powerless as individuals and as a sex. In carrying out the struggle for liberation, women are doing something they have been systematically educated to believe themselves incapable of: women are becoming fighters, leaders, organizers, and clear political thinkers, capable of mobilizing the power of the masses of women in the decisive struggles against the capitalist system.