Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Bay Area Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 3: Women Fight for Liberation


Women in the liberation struggle – An overview

(The following is based on a speech given by Mary Lou Greenberg, a woman in the Bay Area Revolutionary Union, at the International Women’s Day celebration in San Francisco, March 8, 1970.)

About 140 years ago, black slaves led by Nat Turner were rebelling against their masters and plantation owners in Virginia. A few years later, women factory workers in the textile mills in Lowell, Mass., walked off their jobs to protest a 13-hour work day and wages that came to less than $1.25 a week. From these events and many others like them, American working class heroines began to come forward:

Women like the black slave Harriett Tubman, who began to rebel when she was 15 years old. Her master ordered her to tie up a slave who had tried to run away so he could be whipped. Instead, Harriett helped him to escape, the first of over 300 of her people she helped to reach freedom. She escaped herself when she was 29, and did such a fantastic job helping slaves escape on the “underground railway” that the slavemasters put a $40,000 price on her head. Armed with a revolver, she defended her passengers, and she was recommended to John Brown as the person best able to help him carry through with his plan to free the South.

About this time a white woman named Mary Jones began to help working people all over the country free themselves from having to work long miserable hours for hardly enough to get by on. Called “Mother” Jones, she worked with the coal miners most of all, helping them plan and win strikes. One time she told the striking men to stay home and led an army of women, armed with mops, brooms, rocks, anything they could find, to chase the scabs out of the mines.

We’re here today, International Women’s Day, in the tradition of the rebelling black slaves, the Lowell Mill girls, Harriett Tubman, and Mother Jones. The Black Panther women in jail in New Haven, Conn.; brown women here in the Mission who are trying to fight the sweat shop conditions at Levi Strauss and are defending Los Siete; the hospital workers who are going on strike next week; the high school women who are trying to take education out of the hands of the ruling class and make it serve the needs of the working class–we can all take courage and inspiration from the past struggles of American women.

ALL PART OF THE SAME STRUGGLE

We’re all here today, then, as part of the same struggle for liberation. But what is this ”liberation” we’re working for? Some might even say that the struggle for women’s liberation is different from, say, the struggle for welfare rights. The program lists a speaker from the Women’s Liberation Movement–but all the speakers here are part of the Women’s Liberation Movement, just as Harriett Tubman and Mother Jones were.

Now, Mother Jones, for instance, didn’t go around talking about women’s rights. In fact, she was really pretty backward on this question. She felt that women shouldn’t have to work, but should be able to stay home and raise the children. She wasn’t about to go around urging that women should have the same jobs as men. She knew that women had worked in the mines once–stripped to the waist, crawling about in narrow tunnels on their hands and knees pulling heavy cars of coal. She knew that women’s equality would mean that women would be free to die in the mines like men did.

One day she shocked a meeting of wealthy women suffragists when she said they didn’t need the vote to raise hell like she did. They needed a strong hatred of injustice and a loud voice. She felt that politics was the bosses’ game, and wanted to see economic justice achieved before anything else.

And in her own way, Mother Jones probably did as much for women’s liberation as the suffragists or feminists. She taught the miners’ wives to stand up and speak out and fight–and the miners themselves had more admiration and respect for her than they did for most men.

Of course, times are different now. Women are fighting for their rights as women. But the situation for working people and people without jobs is still a damned hard one. More and more workers are getting laid off every day. There are people on welfare who never thought they’d have to be there. And this situation is hitting women–especially non-white women–hardest of all.

WHAT IS ”WOMEN’S LIBERATION”?

All the speakers today have talked about women who are getting together and fighting back for their own survival and for the freedom of the entire working class. So what do we mean by “women’s liberation,” then?

Some people used to think that women’s liberation meant a kind of personal liberation or freedom–the idea that by going bra-less, living in a commune, sleeping around with many men instead of just one, a woman could be “free.” The idea was that it was possible for individuals to be free before–or even without– changing the basic structure of our present society.

But more and more people are realizing that individual solutions are available only to the rich–that there’s no such thing as individual freedom for the masses of people–male and female–in a slave society like the one we’ve got now. Only socialism, where the working people own the industries and run the government for the benefit of all of us, can offer liberation for women as well as for men.

Women’s liberation, then, really means a society where women and men take part equally in all aspects of that society–in the workplace, in the community, at home, and in the schools. Where women and men both will be able to work in the fields and factories without bosses telling us what to do. We’ll be able to run things ourselves with no bosses or rulers who make us do all the work while they get fat.

There’ll be warm, friendly child care centers for our children and top-rate medical care for all. Now, it’s just the rich who can afford to get sick–as it’s mostly just rich women who can get either abortions or good medical care when they’re pregnant. It’s the poor women who are forced to be sterilized and are told to, use birth control because “the reason you’re poor is that you’ve got too many kids,” (This is nonsense; the reason people are poor is that food and resources aren’t distributed evenly: the capitalists hoard them and use them to make profits.)

In the future socialist society, the schools will teach our true history–about the struggles of women and the entire working class and of black, brown, and all minority peoples. There’ll be no unemployment insurance or welfare because there’ll be enough work for everyone and enough for everyone to live comfortably. Of course, if we get hurt or sick, or we’re changing jobs, our workers’ government will make sure our family is provided for. And older people and the disabled will be well cared for–not cast out. But this kind of assistance will be based on real concern for the welfare of the people. Not a degrading system like we have today that tries to make you feel like a beggar for demanding what you’ve earned. Or cuts you off without a penny if you give up looking for jobs that don’t exist.

Under socialism all women can decide whether or not to have children, or get married. We won’t be told we have to look sexy, or be dumb and helpless–that the only thing a woman is good for is to be a wife and mother. There will be a chance for men and women to be really creative and to take pride in what they do and who they are.

WOMEN UNDER SOCIALISM

For instance, in Vietnam women had few rights before the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was established under Ho Chi Minh in 1946. After the French were defeated, women were given immediate voting rights. Today in North Vietnam, women receive equal pay for equal work, and work in the fields and factories as well as fight alongside the men to defend their country. Married women are called by their own name, now, instead of their husband’s as formerly, and the husbands take turns baby-sitting with the wives, so that both men and women can go to school and attend meetings.

In China, since the revolution, the situation of women has: similarly improved, from one of feudal slavery to equal participation in society, Chinese women are now village officials, heads of agricultural stations, and play leading roles in all levels of society.

These changes were not accomplished without effort, however, and they are still going on. The male workers and peasants were reluctant to change after centuries of women being subservient to men. But through the leadership and efforts of the Communist Party, led by the women in the Party, they realized that the full participation of women was necessary to defeat the landlords and rulers. When they saw the fine things women could do, they realized that women’s liberation was a good thing.

Compare this to the situation in this country today where women workers are paid 40% less than male workers for the same job. Women are encouraged to stay in the home because that’s where the big corporation owners want us. They need us there to raise the future workers for their factories and to take care of the present ones.

Just as the bosses use racism to keep white workers divided from non-whites, they use male supremacy to keep male and female workers, husbands and wives, divided from each other. Who benefits when the husband comes home tired and frustrated after a long work day–and takes out his anger at his wife instead of his boss? Who benefits when unions don’t demand equal rights for women workers– and then the women scab on the men? The bosses come out ahead every time.

WHO IS THE ENEMY?

To build toward that socialist society and the women’s liberation which must be a part of it, we have to recognize who the enemy is. Our enemy is not men. Our enemy is U.S. imperialism–the bosses, the big corporation owners, the politicians who work for them, and the police and the army who protect their interests. It’s the same enemy the Vietnamese people are fighting–the rulers of this country who decide what the schools will teach, what our wages will be, what welfare crumbs they’ll hand out, and who the police will shoot next.

Our enemy is U.SĄ imperialism, so we have to build a powerful United Front which will bring together all the women, men, workers, students, people on welfare–all people who will unite against the common enemy. This United Front will be led by working people at the point of production, particularly black and brown workers who are now leading the struggle in this country, because only workers at the point of production–the industrial proletariat–have the power to shut the country down, take over the factories, and run them in the interests of all working people. The most courageous, the most self-sacrificing, the most far-seeing of these workers and their allies will form the core of the new communist party that we need to lead us in defeating the bosses and building socialism.

This United Front Against Imperialism will be formed:

In support of the national liberation of black and Mexican-American peoples, and the democratic demands of all oppressed minorities;
In support of the liberation struggles of oppressed peoples abroad, a struggle currently being led by the Vietnamese women and men;
To fight against the growing fascist repression in this country–the attacks by the police, supported by the courts, against the Black Panther Party, against Los Siete de la Raza, against working men and women on strike lines, against all those who are standing up against U.S. imperialism, like the Chicago 8. We must defend those currently under attack and remember that there will be many more “conspiracy” trials.

The United Front will fight against the oppression and exploitation of women under imperialism; and will fight against the increasing lay-offs, speed-ups, rising prices, higher taxes, and welfare cutbacks which are Nixon’s answers to inflation.

WOMEN IN THE UNITED FRONT

Women must play a leading role in all of these areas of struggle–just as the fight against the oppression and exploitation of women is one of the key areas in the United Front. The fight for women’s rights will take place in many ways: through women’s caucuses, rank-and-file movements in the labor unions, and workers’ solidarity committees to fight against all forms of on-the-job discrimination; through Welfare Rights organizations and tenants’ unions–because everyone needs enough money to live on and a decent place to live; by fighting for good medical care for all–including the right of a woman to decide whether or not to have children; through women’s groups, where we can learn our problems aren’t individual problems, but that they’re caused by the kind of society we have. That we’re having trouble with our husbands, for instance, not because we’re neurotic, but because it’s damn near impossible to have good relationships with anyone in this society. We’ve been trained to be competitive, mistrustful, individualistic, and only in a society based on cooperation and run by the masses of working people will it be possible for things to be different. Even then it will take a long time to get rid of the ruling class ideas that whites are “better” than non-whites, and men. are “superior” to women. We must begin now to attack those ideas and to change the ways men and women relate.

To truly unite the working class, we have to help women become independent and not be dominated by men. We must fight against the idea that the only place for women is in the home. This means, for instance, when we set up child care centers, or Breakfast-for-Children programs like the Panthers have, men as well as women should cook and watch the children We have to encourage sharing household work at home, especially if the wife, as well as the husband, is working outside the home. Above all, we have to show by our actions that “women’s rights” does not mean the right to be mean to men–that equality between the sexes can mean better relationships between women and men. Revolutionaries, especially, and those who are trying to become revolutionaries, must live up to the idea of men and women being equal, and revolutionary men have a special responsibility to bring these ideas to the men they are working with.

Women being equal also means women taking part in armed struggle against the capitalist state. We know that the bosses don’t give up anything without a fight. And we can only win if we gather together all our forces, women and men, to fight on every level.

If we unite with all who can be united under militant working class leadership, our United Front will be capable of defeating our enemy, U.S. imperialism, once and for all. And in defeating our real enemy, we, as women, will find our real liberation.