Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

October League (M-L)

Revolutionary Union: Opportunism in a “Super-Revolutionary” Disguise

Selected Articles from The Call

Chicago Women Answer RU’s Slanders

(Editor’s Note: This “Open Letter to the Movement” was written by a group of women who were active in building the International Women’s Day March attended by about 5,000 people in Chicago in March, 1974.)

Dear Friends,

We are writing this in response to an article in the April issue of Revolution, which grossly distorts the International Women’s Day coalition and march in Chicago. We are doing this because the march was a significant event in the development of the women’s movement, and we want people around the country to get a more accurate picture of what happened and why. We are all people who worked on the march from beginning to end. We write as individuals, not representatives of our organizations.

We and other groups came together through the initiative of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union because we felt that a major response to the economic and political crisis was necessary. We saw that women were affected in particular ways by this crisis, and that it was important for them to organize as women to fight back and to bring women’s issues into the general movement which is developing in response to the crisis. We thought the best ways to build women’s participation was to focus on specific ways women are feeling the crunch, and to link them together. We also wanted to bring out the international and class significance of International Women’s Day. Consequently our demands were:

1. Pass the ERA and protective legislation for all workers.
2. End forced sterilization.
3. Roll back prices on food, fuel and other necessities to August 1971 and make sure that supplies are available.
4. Release funds for childcare and other human services.
5. An adequate welfare grant with additional allowances when necessary.
6. Support the struggles of women workers, such as the Farah strike and farm workers strike.
7. Support for women struggling in other countries.
8. Impeach Nixon and throw out the policies he represents.

We focused on a few of these demands specifically on the Thursday before the march, in actions around food prices, welfare cutbacks, and equal pay for equal work at City Hall. Between 4-5 thousand people came to the demonstration. For one-third to two-thirds of these, it was their first demonstration; so the event certainly built and broadened the movement.

The R.U. distorts the character of the coalition. It makes it seem as if only the R.U., the O.L. and the CP. were actively involved, and that all the debate there was went on between these groups. In fact, over 45 groups supported the coalition and most actively participated in these debates. The bulk of these were women’s groups, but there was also strong participation from student groups, a few trade unionists, community groups, Welfare Rights, and the left. On questions like the ERA, the vast majority of these groups were opposed to the R.U. position (which did not support the amendment). The R.U. line was defeated not by any “collusion between O.L. and the CP.,” but because almost every group saw that it was wrong.

The R.U.’s attack on the coalition takes the form of an attack on the so-called collusion between the O.L., and the CP., but it is really an attack on the women’s movement and its demands, and on the thousands of women who support them. The R.U. fails to even acknowledge the existence of the women’s movement as an independent political force. They portray the coalition as a battleground between the R.U. and the O.L.

They seem to think the only purpose of a coalition is for left organizations to fight over slogans, with the strongest or most long-winded taking the cake. We think the struggles that went on over demands were very important. But they were important because they determined whether or not we could reach the masses of women with our slogans, not in the abstract. The correct demands for a demonstration are those that strike to the heart of the people and move them forward, that direct the movement at the target and build it broader and deeper, that move masses of people into action at a specific time. The R.U. has a different view. They even criticize the march for not being “pure” and for including gay women. Gay women supported the coalition’s demands even though there was no specific gay demand; their participation strengthened the march, contrary to what the R.U. implies. We want to unite all groups on the basis of fighting for women’s equality and economic justice. The broader the movement to fight for this is, the greater its chances of success.

The R.U. also misrepresents the slogans of the march. It isolates two demands (“Pass the ERA and protective legislation for all workers” and “Impeach Nixon and throw out the policies he represents”) from all the rest in order to portray them as reformist.

First, we don’t think reformism consists primarily in the wording of a demand, but in how you work with it and what you use it to build.

Second, the total list of our demands presents a fairly sweeping picture of a lot of the specific ways in which women are oppressed, and what that adds up to. People make connections between these concrete demands and learn from that.

Third, the R.U. thinks that demands like “Equal rights for women” or “End the attack on our living standards” are always better than ones like “Pass the ERA” or “Roll Back Food Prices.” We disagree. The more concrete a demand is, the better people can understand it and the more it strikes home to their own lives. That is how people who are not already anti-imperialist get moved into action. The concrete demands we chose were ones that have arisen out of the struggles of specific groups of women. Consumer groups came into the coalition largely because of the food prices demand. Welfare rights joined because of the welfare demand. An abstract list of slogans is not, as the R.U. thinks, more broad and inclusive; but ends up leaving most people cold because it doesn’t take off from where they are at. We agree with Lenin that, “The substitution of the abstract for the concrete is one of the greatest and most dangerous sins in the revolution.” (“On Slogans”)

The ERA slogan is a case in point. Almost every group in the coalition supported it. The women from trade unions wanted it in partly because the AFL-CIO supports it; and so they could use it to convince their unions to support the coalition and thus bring rank-and-file women to the march. The R.U. makes a contradiction between the ERA and protective legislation. This is beating a dead horse. Protective legislation, in Illinois at least, has already been wiped out by Title 7. The ERA won’t undo that, but it will provide a better basis to fight to extend protective legislation to men as well as women, on things like the 8-hour day. That is why we coupled the two demands.

The R.U. makes specific errors of fact in its article:

1) One of the points of unity of the coalition was that member groups could not attack the demands of the coalition at the march. We agreed that groups could put out independent leaflets and say whatever they liked in addition to the demands of the coalition. But they could not undermine its basis of unity by attacking any of the demands.

After the coalition decided this, the R.U. withdrew from it (a fact they neglect to mention in their article).

2) The R.U. claims that the O.L. nominated a woman from the CP. to be head of the program committee on the grounds that the CP. has a mass base. This story is a complete fairytale. A woman from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union was head of the program committee, and no one else was ever nominated by anyone. What is the point of this kind of slander?

3) The R.U. claims the coalition downplayed the international significance of International Women’s Day. In fact there was a slogan about this. The international aspect was stressed in the press releases and the program of the march, and there was a strong international contingent.

In conclusion, the character of the R.U.’s participation in the coalition could be described as “All talk, no action.” They came to meetings to argue for their slogans, but they didn’t do any of the hard work of the coalition. When they weren’t allowed to do a leaflet trashing the ERA, they left. We went on to build the largest and strongest International Women’s Day demonstration in over 30 years. They went on to do a small forum. In our opinion, this is not the way for communist groups to win respect and leadership in the mass movements.

All of us who worked on the demonstration felt it made a strong contribution to building the women’s movement in this city; and we plan to have an even better one next year.

Vicki Cooper, Chicago Women’s Liberation Union
Caren Levy, Chicago Women’s Liberation Union
Rinda West, Oakton Community College Women’s Liberation
Meredith Tax
Susan Brand, National Lawyer’s Guild
Debby Romine

(Published in THE CALL, May, 1974)