Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Mary Lou Greenberg

Union of Revolutionary Women

Published: Movement newspaper, Vol. 5, No. 10, November 1969.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The thesis must clearly point out that real freedom for women is possible only through communism. The inseparable connection between the social and human position of the woman, and private property in the means of production, must be strongly brought out. That will draw a clear and ineradicable line of distinction between our policy and feminism. And it will also supply the basis for regarding the woman question as a part of the social question, of the workers’ problem, and so bind it firmly to the proletarian class struggle and the revolution. – Lenin, in a conversation with Clara Zetkin, 1920.

Women have been put down long enough. We’re tired of getting the lowest wages and the crummiest work; of being used as strike-breakers, as a cheap supply of labor, and as unpaid servants in the home. We’re tired of working for other people who just get richer while we get poorer. We want a society where workers work for themselves, not bosses; where women and men, black, brown, yellow, and red, are treated equally on the job, in the community, in the home, and in the schools; where jobs are available for all and each person is guaranteed food, clothing, shelter, health care, child care, and a good standard of living. We believe that only when workers instead of bigshot bosses run society and the government will women as well as men be free. We know that women cannot be fully free until ALL working people are free, but we must unite now and begin to fight for our freedom. – Opening statement of the Liberation Women’s Union Program

The statement above represents the initial attempt of a group of Bay Area women to make the connections that Lenin saw necessary, between the exploitation and oppression of women and the exploitation and oppression of all working people.

This connection has, of course, been made before: by some women’s liberation groups who use it to show why organizing women around the issues of women’s liberation is inherently “revolutionary”, and by radical and left groups which are now tacking on “women’s issues” to their platforms, but basically forgetting about them after that.

The Liberation Women’s Union is attempting to do something which neither of these approaches has so far done. That is, to organize women on the basis of their real needs as women and, through a working class-oriented program and series of demands, to relate each issue and specific struggle to the overall class struggle.

Lenin recognized the need for “appropriate bodies” to carry on work among women, “special methods of agitation and forms of organization”. “That is not feminism, that is practical, revolutionary expediency. That is why it is right for us to put forward demands favorable to women, practical conclusions which we have drawn from the burning needs, the shameful humiliation of women in bourgeois society, defenseless and without rights.”


Briefly, the demands of the LWU are:

1) EQUAL WORK AT EQUAL PAY, including no racial or sexual discrimination in hiring, promotion, or pay scales.
3) SHARING HOUSEHOLD WORK. ”Household work is not just “women’s work”. It should be shared by all family members.”
4) FREE, EQUAL AND REAL EDUCATION, including no more “tracking” by sex, race or economic class. ”We demand that schools teach about the role women have played in history; we demand that they tell about the struggles of American working people and about the struggles of poor and oppressed people everywhere.”
5) FREE, COMPLETE HEALTH CARE, including free birth control information to all who wish it; safe free abortions to women who want them; no forced sterilization of anyone.
6) CONTROL OVER PERSONAL RELATIONSHIPS, including equal rights for all women and men, married or unmarried, and for all children born in or out of marriage.
7) AN END TO BRAINWASHING. “We demand an end to the degrading image of women on TV, in the movies, in books and in advertising. We will not be brainwashed any longer into buying things that just make big businessmen richer.”
10) CONTROL OVER SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS, including “We demand that the courts, police and other social institutions such as national, state, and local government stop oppressing the people. The present inadequate and degrading system of welfare must be replaced by a program which guarantees an adequate income for everyone...We must stop the taxing of poor and working women and men and make the big corporations pay instead.


The first thing we did upon coming together this summer was work out this program and demands. Some of us had participated in and were still involved with small groups in the existing women’s liberation movement. We had gained an understanding of the social – rather than individual – causes of female oppression and exploitation through participating in one or another of the small women’s groups, the most common organizational form of the WL movement so far.

We recognized that some middle-class women may indeed be made aware of the inherently exploitative and oppressive nature of U.S. monopoly capitalism through first becoming aware of and understanding their own person oppression as women. We had also sent that this was not inevitable. Those middle-class women – who DID make the connection, whose consciousnesses supposedly had been raised from an individual to a social level of understanding, were by and large unable to fight their oppression except on a purely personal level – i.e., moving into a commune, divorcing their husbands, taking off their bras, uncurling their hair, etc.

In fact when some of these women began to seek ways of acting outside the small group – for instance protesting job discrimination, or participating in an anti-war protest – they were sometimes discouraged and warned against being co-opted by the male left. In some parts of the WL movement, those who suggested such action were suspected of being agents for male-dominated groups.

In addition, we were quite aware that any movement which purports to seek liberation for a considerable segment of society, in this case half the population, must address itself to the needs of the poorest sectors of that group if it is to succeed in its intent. Radical historian William L. O’Neill had pointed out, in an article in Dissent entitled, “Feminism as a Radical Ideology,” that the early feminists “invariably refused to admit that differences in station among women were of any importance,... Equal rights for women did not mean the same thing to a factory girl that it meant to a college graduate”.

Despite the fact that this article was widely circulated in at least several small WL groups and that many women realized that our experiences with and understanding of the needs of working and lower class women were, at best, limited, there was little, if any, attempt made to find out what we did not know and to make the WL movement serve all women instead of just a privileged few. (The several forces and splits within the general WL movement are well defined in the McAfee-Wood article, “Bread and Roses”, in the June 1969 LEVIATHAN).


It was therefore clear that within the existing diffuse WL movement an alternative was needed for middle-class women who wanted to actively fight for women’s liberation as a part of the overall revolutionary movement, as well to make the ideas of women’s liberation work in the interests of working and poor women.

At the same time this summer, women whose participation in the small WL groups had been limited or non-existent, but who were deeply concerned with the position of women as part of their commitment to building a revolutionary movement among the workers and youth in this country, were beginning to feel the need, in Lenin’s words, for an “appropriate body” to concentrate on the conditions and needs of women.

Through a common need to create such an organization which would concentrate on organizing nonprofessional working women, wives of working men, and women on welfare, we began meeting together. Unlike some groups which initially form around a general idea and then after a period of time evolve a programmatic approach to organizing, we felt the necessity to begin work immediately on a program and demands around which we could unite women and from which an organization might grow.

Most of us already were members of specific organizations and/or collectives, for instance the Bay Area Revolutionary Union; SDS; a collective in Hayward doing working class organizing; women’s liberation groups which had begun to seriously talk about organizing working women; San Francisco Newsreel, etc.

We all had at least an elementary understanding of Marxism, and were united on the necessity of socialist revolution led by the working class. In a series of meetings we worked out an initial program and series of demands which were discussed by the whole group, re-drafted, and discussed again. Attendance kept increasing, and at each meeting new women came. At this point no publicity has been given to the group except through word of mouth. It was obvious, though, that a number of women were moving in the same direction and felt a need to share experiences and work together in a disciplined, directed way around women’s issues.


After the first version of the program had been finalized (on the basis of our experience with it, it may go through several more versions), we began discussing organizational questions. There are seven basic geographical areas around the Bay represented. Between 50 and 75 women attended at least one of the program-discussing meetings, and all geographical areas have been represented at all meetings. The group is predominantly white, although a Chicano woman active in the brown movement has participated from the beginning, and an early meeting was held with two Black Panther women. Most of us in LWU come from middle class and student backgrounds; most are now working in non-professional type jobs – in factories, clerical work, communications, etc. – or will be working in the near future; others are doing work in their communities or on state college or junior college campuses.

The organizational structure is complicated: in a couple of these areas there are several separate but close-working groups participating, plus several “independent” women. A steering committee has been set up, composed of representatives from each geographical area, which will assist communications between groups, schedule plenary meeting, and discuss in detail the proposed structure, aims and activities of the LWU.

At this early stage, the organization exists primarily to exchange information between groups and individuals already engaged in organizing women. Our eventual goal is to assist in creating a revolutionary mass organization of women with a working class perspective which will at the appropriate time join with similar organizations to forge a revolutionary party in this country.

To move toward this goal, we must form collectives of women, organized around a revolutionary program and series of demands. At the present time, separate LWU collectives are not meeting in all areas due to different existing situations and needs. For instance, in one area there are several working class community groups and organizations already existing. Women from these groups are represented on the LWU steering committee, participate in general LWU actions, and may use the program in their organizing work, but at this time do not plan to form a separate LWU collective or chapter. In other areas, separate LWU collectives are already forming.


Whatever organizational form finally evolves, the success or failure of the LWU will depend on whether or not it is able to organize actions around the demands and truly serve the people – in this case, working and poor women.

In addition to exchanging information, the LWU will focus on two areas: study and action. The steering committee has prepared a reading list and several study plans for use as each area needs. Many of the women are already involved in study groups which focus on the works of Marx, Lenin and Mao; for those who are not and for new members of the organization, special study groups will be set up. Along with basic revolutionary literature, we will study the history of women’s and labor movements in this country and current WL publications and literature.

In the area of action, we will conduct propaganda addressed to women on women’s issues and on anti-imperialist issues in general (for instance, the fall anti-Vietnam War moratoriums and mobilizations); and plan actions around particular issues in each area and the LWU demands.

Our experiences with organizing around a program and specific demands is extremely limited at present. Our work so far has shown that it is a very useful tool for making contacts with other women who are already organized and who are likewise looking for women with whom to unite. We are currently experimenting with ways of utilizing the program and our efforts will vary from area to area at present. A condensed form of the program, similar to the one included earlier in the article with a list of contact phone numbers, will be printed on the backs of leaflets issued for specific actions of general propaganda purposes. For instance, the LWU will participate as a group in the Nov. 15 Get-Out-of-Vietnam march in San Francisco and will distribute a LWU leaflet along the way. For the future, we are anticipating simultaneous organizing around one key demand in each geographical area.

In addition to general organizing, we will participate as individuals or as a group in specific actions to support the struggles of other women – on picket lines, in Welfare hearings, in demonstrations for support of political prisoners, etc. LWU women have walked the picket line with strikers and their wives in the current Pittsburg-Des Moines Steel strike in San Jose and will support the strikers and their wives in whatever way we can – from providing babysitters to participating in demonstrations at the plant. We plan to be able to mobilize large numbers of women on short notice for supportive demonstrations or other action where ever and whenever such support is needed in the Bay Area. We also hope it will be possible to form alliances with Black Panther and Chicano women for mutual support.


Two other areas are also important in the development of a strong, revolutionary women’s movement: each LWU member is expected to learn some form of self-defense (we are in the process of locating karate instructors); and each woman who is serious about building such a movement must take the ideas of women’s liberation seriously in her own personal life. The LWU hopes to be a disciplined organization in expecting members to participate in study and self-defense classes and be responsible to the organization for carrying out decisions made by the entire body. In addition, we expect members to combat male supremacy and male chauvinism in all aspects of personal behavior and political work. For instance, we must not hesitate to assume positions of leadership or voice our opinions in any other, mixed (male and female) collectives and organizations we are in. We must be on our guard against consciously or unconsciously responding in bourgeois, “ ;feminine” ways to male actions or statements. We must combat the ideas of male chauvinism in ourselves as well as in males, and we must dress and act in ways that do not further our sexual objectification. We must actively raise the oppression and exploitation of women as it relates to capitalist exploitation and oppression of all people, and we must never separate the fight for women’s liberation from the fight for the liberation of all people.


We have found already that the question of women’s liberation can be one of the most difficult to raise in general political work. We have also found that once raised, it leads to increased political consciousness of both men and women. The idea that wives have a right to attend their husband’s union meetings, for instance, increases the political awareness of the women and makes them feel that they are a part of workers’ struggles, too. It also helps expand the concept of “worker”, and puts union struggles into a broader social context.

In the process of tearing down – or at least cracking – the institutions of male supremacy (for instance, all-male unions with their attendant ideas that union meetings are for men only; that women shouldn’t be on the picket line; that women aren’t “workers”; that unionization isn’t necessary for women), the foundations for male chauvinism will also crumble. When men see that women can be helpful on a picket line, they will begin to change their ideas of women as meek, docile, and servile creatures. Once released from the ideas of male chauvinism and the practices of male supremacy, men and women can unite to fight the common enemy.

The Liberation Women’s Union is actively seeking the participation of, or alliances with, other women who basically agree with our approach and program. We will also unite with other women on areas we can agree on, and we welcome comments and criticisms. For more information on the LWU and a complete copy of the program and demands, write Mary Lou Greenberg, c/o The Movement.