Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Union

International Women’s Day Sparks Two Line Struggle

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 3, April 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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EROL Introduction: A letter responding to and criticizing this article was subsequently published both in the RU’s Revolution and the OL’s The Call.

The planning of events around International Women’s Day this year became the focus for struggle between different tendencies within the women’s movement and different lines on the woman question.

How should the struggle against the oppression and exploitation of women be waged? What class must lead this struggle? What is the role of communists in the struggle for women’s liberation? These are important questions which the revolutionary and women’s movements must take up.

The question facing the women’s movement at this time is whether it is to go in the direction of bourgeois reformism, relying on the courts and “liberal” politicians, or whether it will emphasize mass struggle, address itself to the needs of the vast majority of women, working class women in particular, and become a conscious force in the anti-imperialist united front.

If it is to do the latter, then communists must play a leading role within it, fighting hard to build mass struggle for concrete demands on the one hand and, on the other, raising the level of political consciousness within the movement by helping link the struggle for these demands with the need for the long-range goal of socialism which will make possible the complete ? emancipation of women.

Chicago Struggle

A concrete example of this struggle over the direction of the women’s movement and the role of communists within it occurred in Chicago around plans for a broad-based “March for Women’s Equality and Economic Justice” on March 9. Initiated by the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (CVNLU), the coalition of organizations that came together to plan it included peace groups, trade unions and revolutionary organizations.

The initial letter sent to organizations stated: “Women who work in factories, offices, in the fields and in the home are all being assaulted by the deterioration of the economy and the policies of the state and federal governments. We see this situation, we feel its effects, and we know we must fight it. We know that the only way that we can begin to be effective is to join efforts and work together on issues that affect us all–rising inflation coupled with frozen wages, unemployment and lay-offs, slashes in welfare and impoundment of funds for human services, the lack of an Equal Rights Amendment, inadequate childcare, cutbacks in school lunch and milk programs, etc...”

At the first meeting in late January, representatives came from the CWLU, Chicago Teachers Union, the Librarians Union, Chicago Peace Council (which is heavily dominated by members of the “Communist Party,” USA), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, the Latino Farah Strike Support Committee, ERA Central (the central headquarters for the campaign to pass the Equal Rights Amendment in Illinois), the October League, Marxist-Leninist (OL) and the RU, along with several other groups.

The RU representative at this meeting stated that we agreed with the main thrust of the march–against the attacks now being carried out against the American people and the ways in which they hit women especially hard. She also said that we oppose the ERA because it is part of these attacks since it would strip away protective labor laws for women and therefore was not in the interests of the vast majority of women.

Instead of a slogan supporting the ERA, the RU representative suggested the slogan, “Fight for Equal Rights of Women.” She pointed out that this would enable groups and individuals with differing opinions on the ERA to participate and unite around a general demand for women’s equality. But this proposal was attacked by the OL representative as “abstract,” and no solution to anything.

Four Proposals

By the end of the first meeting, four ERA proposals were on the floor: 1) to say nothing about the ERA; 2) the RU proposal, “Fight for Equal Rights of Women”; 3) “Support the ERA, Support Protective Legislation for Men and Women Workers,” which was proposed by a woman from the Peace Council, who is also a member of the CPUSA–despite the CP’s “official” line against the ERA; and 4) “Support the ERA.”

There was also struggle around the demand dealing with Nixon. Some people suggested “Impeach Nixon,” the RU representative suggested “Throw the Bum Out,” and OL put forward “Dump Nixon,” although in the ensuing discussion the OL representative openly backed the “Impeach” slogan.

A small committee made up of representatives from CWLU, OL and the RU was appointed to come up with a proposal for all the demands and slogans. At this meeting, we said that because the overwhelming majority of groups in the coalition appeared to support the ERA, we were willing to accept a compromise. While we thought our suggested slogan–“Fight for Equal Rights of Women”– was correct because it offered the opportunity for broader unity and emphasized the need for mass struggle, we would go with the third proposal, although strongly disagreeing with it, and wanted the right to perhaps put out a leaflet at the march, raising our criticisms of the ERA. We stated we would not raise the counter-slogan, “Defeat the ERA,” or any chants to that effect, or in any way “disrupt” the march. But we wanted to be able to put out our own leaflet with our views of how equality of women could in fact be achieved.

At subsequent meetings of the coalition, the third proposal–“Support the ERA, Support Protective Legislation for Men and Women Workers”–was voted in. In the discussion, the RU representative again emphasized that while the RU supported the overall thrust of the march, wanted to participate and help mobilize for it and would not raise banners or chants against the ERA, we felt very strongly that all groups; (not only the RU) must have the freedom to put out their independent views about one or more of the demands, if in fact they disagreed with them. The coalition, however, voted to forbid any independent leaflets about the march demands. The OL representative during the discussion said nothing, either against or in favor of this, but when the time came to vote, OL voted to forbid it, as did the CP.

Unity between OL and the CP also came out in their agreement around the ERA slogan, the “Impeach” slogan, and in their reluctance to support a proposed slogan around support for the international struggles of women.

Allying with Revisionists

These stands were of course not surprising coming from the CP member. The CP long ago sold out the interests of the working class and entered into an alliance with the labor hacks and the so-called ”liberal” bourgeoisie to try to stem the revolutionary tide. But it is very disappointing to say the least, when a Marxist-Leninist organization takes these stands, and allies itself with the Number One Sellout of the U.S. working class to boot.

That this alliance between the CP and OL was a real alliance and not just a tactical coincidence was made clear at the small committee meeting following the first general meeting. The OL representative put forward the CP woman to be in charge of the important program committee, saying that the CP has the “largest mass organizations” and ”will bring people out.” This was argued against strenuously by the RU person, who said that the CP was a traitor to the interests of the masses of people and would use this committee position to push its own revisionist, bourgeois line. On OL’s urging, however, the CP person was put in charge of it.

This line that the CP “has people” and it’s the number of people that counts, is only one small step away from promoting “liberal” politicians like Ted Kennedy because they, too, can draw a crowd. Of course it’s important to try to draw as many people as possible to an event. But the most important thing is the political line.

As we said in our article in the February Revolution on the Throw the Bum Out and anti-Nixon demonstrations:

Those who advocate ’watering down the politics’ of the demonstrations and other actions, or who attempt in practice to water things down even while talking about the importance of putting forward advanced political ideas, must remember that a cardinal principle of communists is to have faith in the masses. The masses can and are being won over, step by step, to an anti-imperialist and revolutionary understanding, and active participation in the revolutionary struggle.

Instead of talking about things like the recent demos as being ’too political,’ all communists should be thinking about ways to make actions more political, finding the ways to raise today’s struggle to the level of conscious revolutionary struggle. Otherwise, what’s it all about anyway? Bringing forward an advanced political line that actually reflects the needs and interests of the people will lead to more and more active involvement by the people.”

In the March issue of its newspaper, The Call, OL talks a lot about the importance of putting forward advanced political ideas. In an article entitled, “Women’s Oppression Rooted in Class Society,” OL says “The present day women’s movement is developing as the product of a difficult struggle between two lines.” The article goes on to cite “the growth of a most progressive, militant trend that has linked itself closely with the struggle of working people and minorities ... This anti-imperialist trend is developing leadership, growing stronger and will ultimately lead the millions of oppressed women in the fight for their emancipation.”

The article poses this trend in opposition to ”the forces of narrow feminism, opportunism, and various others who are trying to keep the women’s struggle chained within the boundaries of capitalism. This trend wants ’liberation’ only for a few women at the top, is more concerned with keeping communism out of the movement than about the genuine oppression of women, and poses as its solution, a million and one counter-cultural and reformist schemes. To these opportunist ’leaders’ of the movement, working people are the ’source of male chauvinism’ and the way forward is through the benevolency of the liberal politicians.”

Apparently OL sees itself in opposition to this. But we would like to ask OL, doesn’t the CP put forward the idea that “the way forward is through the benevolency of the liberal politicians”? Doesn’t the CP try to keep all the struggles of the people, including the women’s struggle, “chained within the boundaries of capitalism”? Then what in the world was the OL doing at the Chicago coalition meetings promoting »the CP and actually allying with it on key questions!

Mass Struggle or “Reformist Scheme”

In addition, we want to ask OL, doesn’t a slogan that calls on people to fight for equal rights for women do more to put forward the real solution for discrimination against women–“the revolutionary struggle of the working class and its allies,” to quote from the Call article once again–than a slogan which in essence limits the struggle to a “reformist scheme”– the ERA, which as another article in the Call says, “is not the answer to the problem of inequality of women.”?

OL, of course, does support the ERA, as “one concrete form the demand for equality is taking.” The RU’s position on the ERA is well-known. The ERA was initiated by the ruling class and has been pushed primarily by various politicians (including Nixon) and professional women’s organizations. The ERA may result in a few benefits for a small number of women, but for workers, the demand adopted by the coalition, “Support the ERA, Support Protective Legislation for all Workers,” is like telling a person to cut off his arm and then hope he can get it sewed back on later.

This comes down to the argument that if we get rid of protective laws for women now, that will provide a better basis for getting protective laws for both men and women in the future. This is absurd. The working class had to fight like hell to get what few protective laws for women there now are, and the working class knows that it’s madness to voluntarily give up anything to the bosses on the assumption that a successful fight can be waged later to get back what you give up and then more. The ERA is not a precondition to fighting for protective laws for men, nor for fighting to open up job categories for women.

Of course it’s true, as the Call editorial last month says, that the proletariat must fight for the democratic rights of all people–including petty bourgeois women. But, to quote from our article in the August, 1973 Revolution, “Marxist-Leninists cannot view the fight for democratic rights as somehow apart from what’s going on in society generally or apart from class struggle.” And we quoted Lenin Who called on Communists to fight for demands for the benefit of women “depending on the existing conditions and naturally always in association with the general interests of the proletariat.” And the ERA is not in “the general interests of the proletariat.”

Even for non-working class women, the slogan, “Fight for Equal Rights of Women,” or “Fight for Equality of Women,” broadens the fight beyond the legal realm and points in the direction the women’s movement must go. To throw up the argument that this is “abstract” is, in fact, saying that the struggle for women’s equality must be limited to specific reforms and that communists at this time would “disrupt unity” if they raised the broader picture.

In the same editorial, OL calls on communists “to add their militancy, organizing abilities and experience to this struggle [for women’s rights] and learn from it as well.”

Why Communists Must Struggle

We agree. But OL leaves out the crucial reason why communists must do these things–to unite with women in their struggle and, in the course of struggle, to win them to the side of the revolutionary proletariat and socialism, based on the understanding that only socialist revolution will make possible the complete emancipation of women.

This is why communist organizations must put forward their independent line or position, based on the revolutionary interests of the proletariat. Is this also true when communists are working in a coalition? Yes, it is. A coalition brings together people and organizations representing different class ideas and class forces. They come together because there are certain demands, slogans, etc., on which they can agree. In other words, there is a certain level of political unity.

On the other hand, each participating organization in a coalition has the right to disagree with certain slogans, demands, etc., and to put forward these disagreements during the event itself, probably in the form of a leaflet, as long as it is done in a way that doesn’t disrupt the overall unity of that event. It is very interesting that some people in coalitions who are strongly anti-communist and consider communists “totalitarian” are the very same ones who most adamantly forbid anyone from putting forward an independent position on a particular slogan, etc., whereas the position of communists is that in such coalitions, everyone should have that right and be able to exercise it.

Unity Through Struggle

Communists also believe that there should be a great deal of struggle in these coalitions, in order to achieve the greatest degree of unity, and on the highest possible political level. But if such struggle fails to win everyone over to a particular position, they can put forward their disagreements publicly.

It is of course especially important for communist organizations to have this right, because the independent line they put forward on a particular question represents the revolutionary interests of the proletariat, and therefore the real interests of the overwhelming majority of people. It was therefore absolutely inexcusable for OL, which calls itself a communist organization, not to fight along with the RU for this right when it came up at the Chicago coalition meeting.

In its newspaper, OL expresses concern with the trend in the women’s movement that wants to keep “communism out of the movement.” What is the difference between that trend and shackling communists so they are unable to bring forward a proletarian line on the woman question, as happened at the Chicago coalition meeting? By not resolutely defending the right of communists to put forward their independent line, OL in effect was acting in league with this trend which it so resoundingly condemns on the printed page.

The need to bring forward a proletarian line was seen in two major marches–one in Chicago, the other in New York–on March 9. The Chicago one drew approximately 2000 people from different sections of society, the majority women students, intellectuals and professionals. This good-sized turnout showed the potential for the women’s movement in bringing together women around the general question of fighting against their oppression and exploitation.

This was undeniably one of the strengths of the march, along with the fact that the main thrust of most of the demands was against attacks coming down on the American people as a whole. But the fact that the demands were confined to narrow reformist ones and did not raise any broader political slogans or slogans of international solidarity (except for signs and banners carried by individuals), and that there were strong lesbian and anti-men tendencies in the march, showed the weaknesses and the need for communist leadership.

This was also true of a march of about 500 in New York City. Feminist tendencies, as expressed in the slogan, “The things that divide us are trifling compared to the things which unite us”–the idea of a classless “sisterhood”–predominated, but several speakers did talk about international struggles (a Vietnamese woman and a woman from the Irish women’s liberation movement), and the leaflet advertising the march gave a short history of women’s struggles which emphasized working class, international and revolutionary struggles.

Communists must unite with the positive aspects of demonstrations like these and the aspirations of growing numbers of women–from all classes–for equal rights. But at the same time communists must struggle against what is wrong in such demonstrations, marches, etc., put forward our independent line, and link up these aspirations and immediate struggles of women with the long-term goal of socialism and communism.