Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Women lead founding of RYM

First Published: The Guardian, December 20, 1969
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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About 300 members of the RYM-2 faction of SDS met at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., Nov. 27-30 and founded a new anti-imperialist youth organization called Revolutionary Youth Movement.

The delegates represented a variety of SDS chapters, women’s groups and city-wide RYM-2 collectives from such cities as Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Houston, Baltimore and Detroit.

RYM-2 first coalesced as a national faction of SDS at the SDS national convention last June, when it joined with the Weatherman faction in the ousting of Progressive Labor party from the organization. Over the summer, its differences with Weatherman, which controlled the SDS national office, intensified and precipitated a split before the SDS national action in Chicago Oct. 8-11.

During that time, RYM-2 was held together by a network of collectives and individuals, totaling about 1000 people, mostly white students and some former students now working in factories. The faction has mainly been known within the movement for its emphasis, at least theoretically, on opposition to white supremacy and male supremacy and its analysis focusing on the repudiation of white and male privilege.

These two points, as well as several others, form the basis of political unity within the new organization. RYM considers itself a mass organization – not because of its numbers at this time but because non-Marxist-Leninists may join.

Programs outlined

RYM plans to organize primarily among young people in colleges and high schools, but will also include working and unemployed youth. Most of its work will be done around several programs passed on the last day of the conference, including:

–An antiwar program emphasizing the importance of united front mass actions within the Mobilization.
–A program for organizing men and women in the military.
–A 10-point program against the class, racial and sexual oppression in the schools.
–A program for fighting white supremacy, emphasizing the struggles in the schools for open admissions, community control of schools in black and brown neighborhoods, and against racist hiring and wage practices.
–A program against male supremacy and for equal rights for women, including day care and health care programs.

The debate around these programs, however, was not the most significant facet of the four-day meeting. What happened in the process of the organization’s formation was unique in left history.

It was the only time anyone could think of where a revolutionary organization was formed first by all the women present and which men could join only after accepting a political program and set of principles opposing both white and male supremacy.

The direction of the political struggle and debate within the conference and its organizational outcome was determined in a previously scheduled women’s conference and an ad hoc meeting of the men on Nov. 27, the first day of the four-day meeting.

Unity among women

An initial decision was made to exclude women from certain political tendencies, such as the Young Socialist Alliance, for “not fighting male supremacy and white supremacy.” Many women opposed this, especially since the conference was billed as open to all women and for the purpose of uniting women. The move was seen as sectarian, but won after a long debate and a close vote. After that, the women set out to clarify the basis of political unity among themselves: whether women were there “as women” or, as some said, “as communists” working in a mass organization. Combined with this was a discussion of the special oppression of black and brown women, the relation of their oppression to the oppression of white women and whether a “united front of all women” could be formed.

Although there were political differences on many issues, some common conclusions were drawn:

First, while all women were oppressed by all men, cutting across class and national lines, the principle oppression of black and brown women was their oppression as black or brown people. Thus, before there could be unity among all women – black, brown and white – in the struggle against male supremacy, white women had to establish as a first principle of unity the struggle against white supremacy and the repudiation of the white-skin privilege.

Second, the women concluded that they were united and all women could be unite – as women – in the struggle against male supremacy; but the main burden in that fight – the repudiation of male privileges – fell upon men.

Other conclusions included opposition to anticommunism and the need for the leadership of working-class women and programs based on the needs of the most oppressed women within the united front of all women.

Most of the women agreed that this united front on all levels – ranging from a women’s caucus in a local group to an international movement for women’s liberation – was their most powerful weapon against male domination. They also decided that these principles formed not only the political unity among the women in RYM, but had to be the core of the political unity among both women and men in the organization.

At that point, the women developed the following minimum program to fight male supremacy that the men would have to agree to, along with the principles, if RYM was to be an organization that included both women and men:

–At least 50% of all decision-making bodies at all levels of the organization shall be women.
–RYM shall have a permanent women’s caucus which will elect a permanent, three-woman women’s commission, with ex-officio seats on RYM’s national committee, to review all RYM policy for male supremacy, to set up a self-defense program for all RYM women and to maintain communications among all RYM women.
–There will be equal sharing of housework and movement office work where RYM men live or work with women.
–RYM men and women will do mass organizing on. the following programs: child care and health care centers for all women; welfare rights; racial and sexual equality in wages and on the job; and an end to tracking, racial and sexual brainwashing and other discriminatory practices in the schools.
–RYM will organize a week of actions around the country building for International Women’s Day on March 8, demonstrating solidarity with oppressed women and peoples around the world.

At the same time the women’s conference was meeting, the men held a meeting, supposedly to discuss the problem of male supremacy. What actually happened was quite different. While a few men tried to focus the discussion on self-criticism on the part of men, the meeting quickly turned into a “men’s caucus” mainly directed at attacking different political tendencies in the women’s movement.

The heaviest attacks were directed at the independent women’s groups, which were put down as “petty bourgeois,” “personalistic” and “subjective.” The concept of “proletarian leadership” within a united front of women was used, not as a key to uniting all women, but as a ruse to set women against each other and particularly to berate the male oppression of middle-class and bourgeois women.

All the hack, male dodges came out. “What about Jackie Kennedy? She’s not oppressed.” Or Happy Rockefeller and so on. One man went on about how recruiters from the women’s branches of the military enlisted women for “female domination” of men. Another made an analogy between certain independent women’s groups and the role of Ron Karenga’s “US” organization and other “pig groups” in the black movement.

The spectre of “women trustees” using women’s liberation to co-opt women campus workers was used against the analysis calling for a united front of women that would fight for the democratic rights of all women, including bourgeois women.

Male self-criticism limited

In the course of the meeting, a number of men were won away from these arguments, or at least had some doubts raised. But the meeting never shifted to a full criticism and self-criticism of male supremacy. The few men who tried to give an account of their own male supremacist practices were criticized by other men for being “personal” rather than “political,” “subjective” and “breastbeating.”

Some men also attacked each other for using women’s liberation as a “political football” in attacks on political positions other than their own. Another important criticism, originally raised by women and continued throughout the conference, was an attack on “movement honchos” (describing a variety of elitist and manipulative practices used by male leaders to maintain political control).

No issues were settled in the men’s meeting, except that its general content demonstrated to the women and some of the men that any form of a “men’s caucus” was inherently reactionary. The only ”positive” result was the revelation of the extent of male supremacy still within the male ranks of the organization.

In the days that followed, more men were won over to the women’s position and finally supported the unity proposal put forward by the women unanimously. This did not indicate that much, however, since many of the men sat in silence in most of the sessions – some out of fear of being criticized, some because they simply didn’t understand male supremacy and some because their own roles in male domination had been exposed.

In the end, a 10-person national committee was elected, including 8 women and 2 men. One of the men was an active-duty GI and three men were defeated because of male supremacy.