Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Stephen Torgoff

Unity, struggle at Guardian forum: ’Women and Class Struggle’

First Published: The Guardian, June 6, 1973.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The struggle for women’s emancipation and its relationship to the class struggle was the subject of the fifth Guardian forum held last week.

Entitled “Women and the Class Struggle,” the forum at New York University’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City drew more than 500 people the evening of May 25. Many observers described the forum as the best and most exciting of the five monthly meetings sponsored this spring by the Guardian on crucial questions confronting the Marxist-Leninist movement in the U.S.

The speakers at the forum were Fran Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance, Carmen Cruz of the Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers Organization (PRRWO), Karen Davidson of the Guardian, Mary Lou Greenberg of the Revolutionary Union and Vivian Rivera of the Puerto Rican Socialist party.

Renee Blakkan, women’s editor of the Guardian and moderator for the forum, opened the meeting by listing three points of unity among all five speakers. These were, she said, a determination to win the complete emancipation of women, the belief that only Marxism-Leninism provides a scientific understanding of women’s oppression and the conviction that only socialism can bring about women’s liberation.

Other points of unity became apparent during the speeches. All the speakers pointed out that the spontaneous petty bourgeois women’s movement has begun to recede and that this made the need for a proletarian line on this question more apparent than ever. The speakers also agreed that it was particularly important at this time for Marxist-Leninists to raise their understanding of the woman question.


“The women’s movement,” Karen Davidson began, “has advanced the struggle for democracy and as a consequence has made a worthy contribution to developing the united front against imperialism.” At the same time, she added, it “faces a crisis–a crisis that was bound to develop from its spontaneous character, its national and class composition and its vacillating leadership.

“The special oppression of women is particularly intense in the present stage of imperialism, with its general financial crisis, unemployment and speedup, and overall attack on the livelihood of the working people,” she said. “But women, whether or not in the factory, constitute a force for revolutionary change. The contradiction between the masses of women and the bourgeoisie is an antagonistic one.”

Just as the struggle of black people has advanced the general class struggle, Davidson continued, so also the struggle for women’s equality advanced the class struggle. The proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, she said, would be a step forward in bringing more women into industrial production.

Davidson particularly warned against a tendency within the movement “to set democratic and class struggles against each other.” While the main dangers in the women’s movement are right and “left” petty bourgeois errors, she said, within the working class the main danger of opportunism comes from male supremacy.

She summed up the positive aspects of the women’s struggle as “fundamentally progressive.” “This is the principal aspect,” she said, “that we wholeheartedly support, learn from and work to strengthen.”

Davidson ended by listing three strategic tasks for Marxist-Leninists in regard to the woman question: To raise the issue and demands of women in all aspects of their mass work, to strengthen the working women’s movement, and to unite the workers’ movement and women’s movement as a whole in the united front against imperialism.


Carmen Cruz of the PRRWO explained that “the oppression of women is a class question. Women are 39 percent of the labor force,” she said, adding that “all women are not oppressed in the same way. Women workers have the worst, lowest paid, most unsafe jobs. Third world women, especially black women, suffer national oppression,” in addition.

Two erroneous tendencies, Cruz said, are on the one hand to negate the woman question and on the other to place the woman question above the class and national questions. From the point of view of the proletariat, she continued, the woman question cannot be separated from the struggle of the entire working class.

It would be a mistake to try to build a separate women’s movement, Cruz said. “Men’s male chauvinism should be struggled against but the main enemy–the oppressor–is the bourgeoisie. Only the bourgeoisie benefits from women’s oppression and exploitation,” she said.

The task of communists, Cruz continued, is “to raise the demands for equal pay for equal work, daycare and the democratic rights of women on all levels and to tie women’s struggle to the proletariat as a whole. . . linking all the peoples’ movements into one mighty movement to overthrow the bourgeoisie.” Within the struggles of women, she said, working women, especially black women, must take the lead and communists must struggle for the whole working class to take up the oppression of women.

Fran Beal of the Third World Women’s Alliance opened her talk by discussing “the main thread of Afro-American history-resistance.” Just as “until recently, black people were denied their history or told lies,” she said, so also some “black scholars” and others in the black liberation movement are trying to deny to black women their particular history of resistance.

“To be told to stay home and have babies for the revolution,” Beal declared, “may be the ideal theory for the white ruling class,” but not for black women. “Even in Africa, African women have largely been slaves to African men,” she said. In jobs, she pointed out, “the wage scale runs like this: white men, nonwhite men, white women, nonwhite women. The collaborationist trade unions failed to fight white skin privilege. It would be a tragic mistake if working men were to make this mistake toward working women.”

The only way to challenge women’s oppression, Beal concluded, “is for women to take part in the struggle to change their lives.... As wife, mother and worker, black women have borne witness to oppression. As revolutionaries, they will take an active part in changing this.” This means, she said, that the strategic task is to “develop a sisterhood of women of all countries to struggle for the new woman in the new society.”

“Statistics show,” Vivian Rivera of the Puerto Rican Socialist party said, “that Puerto Rican women (in the U.S.) are different from the total population of women. . . (because) most Puerto Rican women don’t work.”

Only one of every four Puerto Rican women is a worker, she said, and “the overwhelming majority of Puerto Rican women are concentrated in the community,” not workplaces. “Puerto Rican women are taught to be servants or slaves,” Rivera continued, “neither she nor her husband see her as a vital or integral part of revolutionary struggle.” But because “in the U.S. one of the PSP’s objectives is to concentrate on community struggles,” women will play a vital role in that struggle, she said.

“Only socialism can bring the total liberation of women,” Rivera concluded.

The last speaker was Mary Lou Greenberg of the Revolutionary Union. “The women’s movement of the 1960s and early 1970s came up with many ideas, but the name ’women’s movement’ implies more unity than there ever was,” Greenberg said. “The thousands of women who came together reflected the same things as the student movement, growing out of the antiwar struggle and drawing inspiration from the struggles of black people. Women saw that in the movement they were being treated the same way as in bourgeois society and they got mad.”

But two main tendencies arose, Greenberg continued. One “raised consciousness raising to a principle,” and brought ”the search for personal freedom and self-expression to its decadent conclusion.” The other tendency, she said, “saw that getting rid of imperialism is necessary for women’s emancipation.”


Greenberg went on to say it was necessary to overcome the idea of “sisterhood, a mystical bond between all women transcending nation and class. Black people, through their development as a nation in the U.S., are bound together by a common oppression and resistance in a way women as women could never be.”

Because the proletarian forces had tended to neglect the woman question, she said, many anti-imperialist women are being drawn into petty bourgeois reformism, such as the National Organization for Women and the Women’s Political Caucus–“all solidly backed by the monopoly bourgeoisie,” she said. Others, she continued, had fallen under the influence of the Trotskyists and revisionists. “Proletarian leadership on this question is vital,” Greenberg said.

This is particularly true now when the bourgeoisie is using the slogan of equal rights to attack the working class, she continued, as shown clearly in the Equal Rights Amendment, which, she said, would “repeal all protective laws for women won by many years of struggle” and “make it easier to fire women.”

The “unity and struggle between petty bourgeois women and working women in the interests of the masses,” Greenberg said, is a good example of the united front against imperialism. Only the unity of the broad masses under the leadership of the proletariat and the freeing of the productive forces by proletarian revolution, she concluded, can provide the basis for drawing all women into production and advance toward the complete emancipation of women.

The next forum, “Roads to Building a Workers’ Movement,” will be held at 7:30 p.m., June 22, at the New York University Law School, 40 Washington Square South, New York City. Speaking will be Gloria Fontanez of the PRRWO, Bob Kirkman of the Harper’s Ferry Organization and representatives from the October League and the Revolutionary Union.