First Published: In Struggle! No. 266, October 6, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
Some of the women were enthusiastic and hopeful; they couldn’t wait to get there. Others were unsure and apprehensive; they went with nagging fears. But everyoue knew it was a first. And like all firsts, it might he a failure or a defeat. It was a success that exceeded all hopes and expectations. It was an outburst of accumulated grievances, but most of all it was an outpouring of political questioning and political hopes.
We are talking about the first meeting of women members of IN STRUGGLE! in the Quebec region. It has been some time now that the women in our organization have been experiencing increasing difficulties in their political work. A growing number of women refused to take on the responsibilities they had shouldered in the past. Why? Women had to have some way to talk to one another and pool their experiences. Some sort of collective framework. Hence the idea of a meeting of Quebec women members around the theme: “Morale among women”.
The first thing that upset some: there was no agenda or weighty preparatory text sent out before the meeting. How could we avoid falling into complete anarchy with no agenda? The weekend session showed us that being flexible doesn’t always have to mean anarchy. Not being weighted down with structures and texts doesn’t necessarily mean an intellectual vacuum.
Getting the ball rolling: women from Quebec City put on a brief sketch which drew out the difficulties women have had in meeting up to the criteria of what a leadership cadre is supposed to be in our Organization. It portrayed the subtle and not-so-subtle forms of chauvinism which prevail in the Organization.
In the workshops, women spoke of problems they had encountered as members and of matters related to their private and emotional lives. They talked about maintaining their political commitment in a revolutionary organization and about the specific problems faced by working-class women.
Many women who over the years have carried out technical tasks for the organization (typing, filing, office work etc.) explained how, little by little, they felt stripped of all their abilities. They described the isolation they experienced because of the type of tasks they had to do. Many had to leave their place of work or mass organizations where they intervened before. They no longer had the time, because of the demands of communist work, to keep in touch with friends outside the organization. They found themselves with few links to anyone outside the organization apart from a relatively small circle of people.
Many women spoke of a feeling that they were useless: either they simply could not see what good their work produced or they figured that anyone could replace them without having to have any particular ability. One sister drew a parallel between these kind of political tasks and housework. Both are “invisible” labours which do not exist publicly and which are thus devalued.
Other sisters mentioned that they did not feel that they were really involved in an important way in the internal debates. Democracy seemed to be just a matter of wading through stacks of words on paper. They were not where the class struggle was really going on. Finally, they felt gripped of any political line or revolutionary ardour. As one person put it, the lack of self-confidence many comrades had spoken of wasn’t just attributable to some so-called “typically feminine attitude”. It was also related to the role they had in the Organization.
Other women who had held leadership posts talked about the difficulties they had experienced because of the idea of the model revolutionary that held sway: the rational, rigorous comrade who was always master of the situation, who never let any personal factors get in the way, etc. Given that model, the women comrades in leadership posts were under constant pressure to change, to perform.
Since no one ever measures up 100% to the model, guilt feelings set in. The women felt guilty for having spent time with their children, for being too emotional, for not doing enough, etc. But men generally find it easier to emulate the model because of the way they have been socialized. Men have learned to suppress their emotions, to be rational, to see the whole instead of the parts. They have learned to be workoholics, to give over their waking hours to work, whether communist work or in the regular work world. That isn’t true for women. By imposing the model on everyone, the Organization broke down, sanitized and boxed people. The understanding that people are the most precious thing was lost sight of.
Finally, everyone said that we had reproduced within the Organization the same divisions that exist in the outside society: the division between manual work and intellectual work, men and women, thinkers and doers. One of the main objectives of the meeting was to link the debate around women to the questioning going on now about the kind of revolutionary organization needed in a country like Canada in a non revolutionary period.
People spoke of a style of leadership cut off from the masses, bureaucratic methods of leadership and the lack of democracy. Others questioned the validity of democratic centralism or at least of the application we have made of it. As one sister said, “We sort of had a congress this weekend.”
The issue of women’s power was raised and discussed in all the workshops. After all, we recognize that men have privileges. Further, we know that where there are privileges there is resistance to change. And we know that the chauvinism of the men didn’t waft away into the clouds the day they joined IN STRUGGLE!: nor will it disappear suddenly on the Great Day either. Therefore, women need vehicles for fighting their oppression and chauvinism within the Organization itself. Women must have a place to debate and make decisions about matters that concern them. We have to go beyond just consultative conferences. Meetings of women should be set up with decision-making power.
A number of women remarked that we mustn’t be afraid in the next while to initiate practices and experiment with new styles of leadership and democracy so that we will be able to come up with new theoretical proposals to put before the next Congress.
The serious questioning of certain aspects of our Organization and the issue of a decision-making structure for women members were undoubtedly the most important questions to come out of the first regional women’s meeting. We invite all men and women who have comments or views on these matters to send them to the newspaper. We are going to work hard in the next while at publishing what people send us. It can only enrich and help push along the debate that was begun last weekend.