First Published: The Guardian, April 9, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The following contribution to the Radical Forum is a reply by the October League [OL] to Irwin Silber’s March 26 “Fan the Flames” column on the International Women’s Day demonstrations in New York. The article was written by Eileen Klehr, vice chairman of the OL, and Lyn Wells, of the OL central committee. A Guardian reply appears on Page 18.
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We would like to respond to Irwin Silber’s “Fan the Flames” column of March 26–in which he raises certain criticisms of the October League (OL)-initiated International Women’s Day (IWD) march at the United Nations.
In his column, Silber attacks the OL for pursuing a “go-it-alone” policy towards Women’s Day and interprets the OL’s motives behind this as being “the most narrow organizational considerations.” Silber also goes so far as to accuse the October League of committing ”the exact same error made by the Revolutionary Union (RU) and Progressive Labor party (PL) in the past, both of whom liquidated the woman question by refusing to see it as a broad movement for democratic rights which should be led by and serve the needs of the working class.”
By examining the facts of International Women’s Day this year, and the principles of Marxism-Leninism, it can be determined whether Silber’s criticisms are legitimate, or in fact, constitute an unprincipled attack and slander against the OL.
For the last two years, the OL has waged a sharp struggle against rightism and ultra-“leftism” on the woman question. A concrete instance was the IWD demonstration in Chicago last year, which mobilized 5000 people. Crucial to the success of this demonstration was the struggle against both the Communist party (CP) revisionists and the RU ultra-“leftists.” Both the Communist party and the Revolutionary Union were excluded from the planning committee for the demonstration based on their failure to uphold the line and slogans of the march, in particular the demand in support of the Equal Rights Amendment. This history, however, is omitted from Silber’s analysis of the OL’s past work in the women’s movement. His lack of knowledge of this movement is displayed when he erroneously calls the recent Union Square march “the largest single IWD event in recent years,” ignoring the 1974 Chicago demonstration.
Similarly, Silber fails to mention the facts surrounding Women’s Day this year. He neglects mentioning OL’s initiating role in IWD events and demonstrations throughout the country–events which mobilized thousands of women and men largely from the working class and oppressed nationalities to raise the demands: Full equality for women! Imperialism, not overpopulation is the cause of hunger, women’s inequality and unemployment! Support the struggles of third world women and peoples! and many others.
The demonstration at the UN in New York, organized by the IWD Anti-Imperialist Coalition, was one such event. Communist-initiated, it was able to unite other Marxist-Leninist and anti-imperialist forces in New York around the above and other demands reflecting the most burning needs of the masses of working and oppressed women.
It is no surprise that the revisionist CP jumped out at this point with their call for a demonstration on International Women’s Day. Faced with the growth and developing strength of the genuine Marxist-Leninist and anti-imperialist movement in the country and this movement’s increasing influence among the masses of people, the revisionists are compelled to do everything they can to undercut this growth and initiative. To underscore this, one only needs to point out the fact that the revisionists have not called for such a mass celebration of IWD in years! Why has the struggle of women suddenly become so worthy of their concern?
The OL does not believe that the CP revisionists are a group of “progressive reformers” who have just now discovered that women are oppressed and exploited under capitalism. In fact, if one studies the history of the CP over the past 10 or 15 years, the split in the international communist movement and subsequent history, it becomes apparent that the CP stands as an agent of collaboration, not only with the U.S. imperialists, but as the chief apologist and representative in the U.S. for Soviet social imperialism. It is this stand that has thrown the CP and all of its like-minded revisionist parties around the world into opposition to the aspirations of the international working class, the oppressed nations and countries and the masses of women.
It is the CP revisionists themselves who characterize their own demonstration in their IWD leaflet as being “committed to free expression of our sexuality and the right to define family and community as we choose.” It is the CP revisionists who set forward their aims to “put real meaning” into the words “equality, peace and development.” This is the woman’s movement as the revisionists would define it, not the definition expressed in the aims and aspirations of the millions of exploited and oppressed women in the U.S. and the entire world–to put an end to imperialist plunder and exploitation.
The CP’s glorification of the UN slogan, “Peace, equality and development,” is an opportunistic distortion aimed at promoting the policy of “detente,” a policy promoted worldwide by the social imperialists. It is a policy aimed at urging reliance of the oppressed nations and peoples on “Big-Power” negotiations to achieve independence and liberation. It is a policy that gives the dangerous illusion that peace can be achieved in the world while imperialism still exists. It is no surprise that, all the while crying “peace,” the revisionists fail to point out in their leaflet the main threat to peace in the world today–the contention and competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union in their drive to control the world. It is also no surprise that the revisionists do not mention as a basis for unity opposition to imperialism and Zionism in the Middle East.
What is surprising, however, is that, while Irwin Silber lightly points out in his column that the CP played “some initiating role” in the Union Square demonstration, he fails to make one single criticism of their line or actions throughout his entire evaluation.
Silber does, however, rise to the CP’s defense against the OL’s “distortion.” Silber points out that the CP demonstration in fact included many demands “concerning the concrete needs of working-class and third world women. ...” This, in our opinion, is a rather shallow defense. Many of us are well aware of the CP’s practice as the most outstanding authors of lists of reforms. In fact, in order to carry out their opportunist demonstration, we are also aware that the CP compromised its well-known opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment. Why then was it correct for the OL and the other groups in the IWD Anti-Imperialist Coalition to oppose “united action” with the revisionists on March 8?
In the October League’s view, making a thorough and complete break, including an organizational break with the revisionists, is not a “momentary tactic” as Silber calls it, but a question of principle. This principle, stated long ago by Lenin in reference to the bankrupt parties of the Second International, has been reiterated in the current split in the international communist movement between Marxism-Leninism and modern revisionism.
Over 10 years ago, when tiny Albania raised the first defense of Marxism in opposition to the distortions and attacks by Khrushchev, the stage was set for an historic split which continues to go on today. This split manifested itself in the international women’s movement, in particular, the Women’s International Democratic Federation (WIDF), where the Albanian and Chinese women’s delegations took a stand opposed to the pacifism being put forward by the Soviet revisionists and their followers (“Women are frightened by the word imperialism”), and broke from the. WIDF. It is well known that there were some who urged the Albanians and the Chinese to continue to work within the WIDF and the other revisionist-dominated world organizations and create an “anti-imperialist presence.” But the Albanian and Chinese communists, as all genuine Marxist-Leninists must, rejected this in favor of making a principled break with revisionism–not only in theory, but in practice as well. It was by their and others’ exemplary actions that Marxist-Leninists all over the world began to understand the irreconcilable antagonism between modern revisionism and Marxism-Leninism. The split that occurred at first on the part of only a few has become a worldwide trend, reflected in the growth of a new communist movement in countries all over the world.
The October League and the new communist movement in the U.S. must also make this break, not only in our words, but in our deeds. Silber charges the OL with acting in our own “narrow organizational interests” by refusing to engage in “united action” with the CP. On the contrary, it is our view that, by running to the revisionists because in this situation they were capable of mobilizing “more people” than the genuine Marxist-Leninists, we would be pursuing narrow interests at the expense of Marxist-Leninist principles.
A critical part of making revolution in the U.S. is educating the masses of people to the danger of the CP’s revisionism. There is no doubt that there were many people at the Union Square demonstration who are honestly interested in fighting for the needs of women and other oppressed people. It is the responsibility of the OL and other Marxist-Leninists to consistently and patiently educate these and the broad masses of people on the basis of their own experience. But how can this be done when the differences between ourselves and the revisionists are blurred over–when a policy of “centrism” calling for “united action” with the revisionists is followed?
Before the development of the present new communist movement, many of us had the experience of working inside the revisionist-dominated coalitions within the antiwar movement. In our attempts to put forward an anti-imperialist line, we experienced first-hand the bureaucratic control, sectarian domination and opportunistic manipulation of the CP. This experience confirms the principled stand that the new communist movement must take now that it is capable of mobilizing independently–to break fully and completely from the revisionists on International Women’s Day, May Day and all other days on which the revisionists initiate an event aimed at misleading the masses and undermining genuine communist leadership. Let there be no question in the minds of the masses of people that, in fact, two different communist movements exist in the U.S. The experience of the people, and the patient education and revolutionary leadership of the genuine communists will bring the masses out from under the wing of the CP and under the leadership of a new and genuine communist party. One of Silber’s main points in his column is his position of full support for Marxist-Leninist participation in the revisionist demonstration. It is exactly this line of “centrism” and “united action” that attempted to provide a “left” cover for the opportunist character of this revisionist effort. At the same time, we must point out the role of the Guardian in the events leading up to March 8 itself. The Guardian, which initially joined the IWD Anti-Imperialist Coalition, left the coalition one week before the demonstration in an attempt to cause demoralization and confusion within the ranks of the groups participating. Rather than staying within the Anti-Imperialist Coalition, which included the majority of Marxist-Leninist organizations in New York, and waiting until after the demonstration was over to make its criticisms, the Guardian chose to pull out at the height of building for this demonstration. Is that what Silber refers to in his column as “responsible behavior”? In this case, we ask Irwin Silber, who was the real splitter?
While Silber is capable of making a full evaluation of the OL’s work on International Women’s Day and makes a call for “healthy self-criticism” from the OL, where is the self-criticism of the above-mentioned splitting activities of the Guardian?
In conclusion, the OL stands by its actions leading up to and on March 8. While the demonstration at the UN displayed a relative weakness of the new communist movement–in our ability to as yet “out-mobilize” the revisionists on this occasion, the demonstration overwhelmingly showed our strength–a strength that will insure eventually our ability to far surpass past efforts at mobilization–our commitment to stand ”unwaveringly against modern revisionism. It is only natural that as we are completing this difficult break, there will be some who will call for “unity” for the sake of a larger demonstration or the like and will accuse us of sectarianism and other crimes. We would like to quote the words of the Albanian comrades, at the Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers Parties in Moscow, 1960, who stood almost alone at that time against the entire international communist movement:
“If anyone considers our struggle against revisionism as dogmatic and sectarian we say to him, ’Take off your revisionist spectacles and you will see more clearly.’”