First Published: The Call, Vol. 6, No. 11, March 21, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
The following article is a report on the activities of the work team that helped build for last week’s International Women’s Day (IWD) march in New York. For two weeks before the demonstration, the work team concentrated on organizing in the Lower East Side community along the march route.
Our work team was composed of workers and communist organizers from all over the East Coast. It included members of the different groups inside the Organizing Committee for a Marxist-Leninist Party (OC).
The weeks of intense organizing activity prior to the march were filled with important political lessons for us.
We learned a great deal from the people themselves about their day-to-day fight against women’s inequality, the oppression of Puerto Rican and other minority peoples, and the misery produced by capitalism. While carrying out broad work to mobilize support for the demonstration (about 200 community people actually joined the march, and many more supported it), we did agitation and propaganda, and organized for the formation of the new communist party.
Our work team began by getting itself politically unified and theoretically clear on the tasks facing us. We studied the woman question, in particular utilizing materials from The Call. We also studied the history of the two-line struggle around IWD, including the importance of the principle of “no united action with revisionism,” which came out of this struggle two years ago.
Building on this political foundation, the work team carried out extensive investigation of the community. We gathered our information by attending community meetings, canvassing door-to-door, doing street-corner leafleting and selling The Call.
Those of us who spoke Spanish tried to teach the others a number of Spanish words and phrases so that more bilingual work could be carried out.
Regular meetings were held to sum up what we had learned, struggle out political questions, and improve our style and method. We worked long hours in the community but, inspired by the enthusiasm of the masses, no one seemed tired when it came to team meetings.
The Lower East Side itself presents a picture of all the basic contradictions of the capitalist system. It has traditionally been a settling point for immigrants from all over the world, brought to the U.S. to serve as cheap labor for the capitalists. Today, it is marked by depressed living conditions which are among the worst in the country.
Whole blocks are filled with burnt-out buildings and squalor. The big slumlords charge incredibly high rents, while allowing the old buildings to deteriorate.
We talked with many people who had been victimized by the fires often set by the slumlords in order to collect insurance money. We also talked with many people who told us of the hardships caused by the cold weather this winter, which included several deaths resulting from utility shutoffs.
The repressive arm of the state is everywhere, as patrolmen and plainclothesmen prowl the community on the pretext of “fighting crime.” Their real purpose is to attack the people at the least sign of resistance or rebellion.
Many of the women we talked with work in the garment sweatshops of the Lower East Side, the very same type of slave-labor conditions which sparked the militant strike of women workers on March 8, 1908, the event which led to the founding of International Women’s Day.
Even today, almost seventy years after those struggles, women are still fighting for the very same demands–union rights, an end to forced overtime, better health and safety conditions, and wages above the miserable piece-work rates which often fall below even the paltry minimum wage. These real life experiences show that, far from winning “liberation,” women under capitalism still face the most brutal and degrading conditions.
We also learned about the importance of the community’s struggle around health care, an issue that many women have been actively involved in. For over 20 years, the people demanded that a hospital be built to serve the Lower East Side.
Finally in 1971, Gouverneur Hospital was built. But it still has no facilities for surgery or emergencies and offers no special services for women’s health.
The people of the community were especially eager to read our agitational materials which exposed the capitalists’ policies of forcibly sterilizing poor and minority women; denying women the right to free, safe abortions, and attacking the movement for paid maternity leave.
From talking with older people in the community, we learned the history of the Communist Party’s (CPUSA) work in this area when it was a revolutionary vanguard of the working class.
In the 1930s, the CPUSA had hundreds of members in the Lower East Side. They were engaged in organizing around every instance of oppression. They fought against evictions, and discrimination. They raised the demand against fascism and imperialist war. The Party boldly aroused the masses and linked their day-to-day struggles with the need to overthrow the capitalist system.
But when the CPUSA degenerated into a revisionist party in the 1950s, it turned its back on the people of the Lower East Side. By 1960, only two community units of the Party remained, and all the factory work had been liquidated.
The limited work the revisionist party did carry on was characterized by reformism and reliance on the liberal politicians. Veterans of this revisionist betrayal told of their experiences to work team members.
A former Party member told of how the mass struggles continued despite the Party’s absence. She recounted how the remaining active Party members pleaded with the revisionist leadership to come down and speak at rallies. “We asked for Herbert Aptheker,” she said, referring to one of the revisionists’ top spokesmen, “but he was more interested in speaking at colleges for money than speaking to the people.”
Today the revisionists are back in the Lower East Side, but only to try to keep the rapidly developing mass struggles from becoming genuinely revolutionary ones. The revisionists are attempting to chain the people to the capitalist system, especially capitalism of the Soviet variety. They preach that superpower “detente” is the answer to the problems of the people, from women’s oppression to the fight for Puerto Rico’s independence.
Our work team did a great deal of propaganda work against revisionism in order to expose the danger of the revisionist party as well as explain the need for a new communist party.
We set up the beginnings of Call discussion groups and Marxist-Leninist study circles, selling over 1,000 copies of The Call and dozens of pamphlets on the woman question, the Puerto Rican struggle and the Gary Tyler case.
These materials were especially useful in doing our work with the most advanced workers in the community. They clearly demarcated the line of the Marxist-Leninist party we are in the process of building from the revisionism and opportunism of the CPUSA as well as groups like the Puerto Rican Socialist Party (PSP).
Summing up our experiences, the work team felt that the combination of broad mass agitation along with systematic propaganda work among the most advanced workers was crucial to the success of the Women’s Day demonstration. We made contact with literally tens of thousands of people, using the concrete issue of the IWD to speak to them about many important political questions.
At the same time, we were able to lay a solid basis for winning many advanced fighters to the cause of communism and the party. This will insure that our work does not end with one successful IWD demonstration. Rather, it will continue with the further development and consolidation of the advanced workers, turning our party, when it is built, into a powerful revolutionary vanguard in the Lower East Side.
The New York work team was a good example of what it means to build the party in the heat of the class struggle.