First Published: The Call, Vol. 4, No. 7, April 1976.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Nearly 600 people marched through the streets of New York City March 7 in an anti-imperialist celebration of International Women’s Day.
The demonstration, which ended in a rally at the United Nations, was part of a weekend of activities that included Multinational Women’s Conference on March 6. Working women and men, communists and people of many nationalities came from cities from Boston to Baltimore to take part in the events.
The march featured colorful banners declaring: “Down with imperialism, full equality for women!,” “Support the struggles of the third world!,” and “Oppose super-power war preparations!” These slogans summed up the political unity of the Anti-imperialist International Women’s Day Coalition which sponsored the events. Other placards, signs and chants demanded jobs, daycare, the right to abortion and support for the Equal Rights Amendment.
Some of the organizations participating the coalition were: Congress of Afrikan People (CAP), October League (OL), Union Democratic Filipinos (KDP), Bridgeport Marxist-Leninist Workers Organization, Committee to Defend the Rights of Haitian Workers, Communist Youth Organization, Ethiopian Students Union in North America, several fightback committees and others.
Both the rally and conference were highlighted by speeches from Cheryl Todd, a convicted defendant along with Dessie X Woods, in a frameup murder trial in the rural Black Belt town of Hawkinsville, Georgia. Todd and Woods’ “crime” was to defend themselves against an attempted rape by a white racist insurance salesman. Their case is being appealed.
“This is wonderful!” Todd told the crowd at the UN, “to see so many strong people here fighting against injustice. Dessie and I are strong women, but we need the help of everyone here to win our freedom and freedom for everyone.”
The International Women’s Day events this year followed a year-long ideological and political struggle. The debate started with the building of the IWD activities last year, when two coalitions formed in New York City and held two separate demonstrations.
One coalition was initiated and led by the CPUSA revisionists, in a bloc with lesbian feminists and Democratic Party politicians. It rallied under the slogan of “Peace, Equality and Development” and refused to target imperialism as the enemy of the masses of women, thus enabling the CP to push the myth of imperialist “detente” and pacifism in its activities.
The other coalition, initiated by the OL, insisted that opposition to imperialism had to be the basis for uniting in an IWD celebration. It also stressed that united action with the revisionists would result in liquidating this basic principle and a revolutionary line on the woman question as well. Speakers at this demonstration attacked both imperialist superpowers for their crimes against the women and people of the world.
Certain organizations claiming to be anti-revisionist, such as the Guardian and Workers Viewpoint Organization, ended up supporting the opportunist-led coalition and opposed the anti-imperialist action, saying that “the masses” would be at the other march.
This year, however, the revisionists held no action and the centrist and sectarian “anti-revisionist” forces were unable to unite among themselves. But instead of joining with the anti-imperialist forces, they chose to do nothing in the way of action. This shows that the size of the CP-initiated action last year was not the decisive factor for these forces, but instead it was their refusal to break with an opportunist line. They would rather uphold a joint policy of “united inaction” with the CP this year, along with a firm position of “no united action” with Marxism-Leninism.
This issue and many others were taken up at the March 6 Multinational Women’s Conference. Sponsored by the Black Women’s United Front (BWUF), the meeting planned to discuss the struggle against imperialism and the forms of organization required to mobilize the masses of women. Workshops were held on women in the fightback, the special oppression of minority women, and the role of Soviet social-imperialism.
The truly multinational gathering showed a great potential for a communist-led working women’s movement. Of the 500 people who attended, a large number were workers, despite the fact that not all the BWUF chapters were mobilized for the meeting.
Speakers addressed sharply the question of revisionism and Soviet social-imperialism in relation to the oppression of women, as well as U.S. imperialism. They exposed the myth of “detente” between the two superpowers, and delivered a blow against the bourgeois revisionist and feminist sabotage of the women’s struggle.
“The struggle against these agents of imperialism,” stated Eileen Klehr, the OL’s Vice-Chairman, “has clarified our course. In fact, it has resulted in a worldwide split–with the revisionists and bourgeois feminists forming one so-called women’s movement and with the masses of women who have taken up the anti-imperialist struggle forming another.”
The conference was disrupted and prevented from achieving its goals by the so-called “Revolutionary Wing,” a sectarian alliance which includes the Revolutionary Workers’ League, Puerto Rican Revolutionary Workers’ Organization and, until recently Workers’ Viewpoint Organization. They entered the meeting with the purpose of wrecking, rather than supporting its aims. The “Wing” made this clear by refusing to support the march the following day.
During the workshops the “Wing” showed themselves to be opponents of the women’s struggle by attacking the main democratic demands of the working women especially compensative seniority for women and minorities, busing to oppose segregation, and passage of the ERA. They plunged into a workshop that was criticizing the Soviet social-imperialists, for instance, and tried to stop it, changing the subject to a denunciation of the ERA and the OL’s party-building efforts.
The “Wing” claims that special demands of women only serve to “divide the working class,” a point they hold in common with both the revisionists and the most conservative labor aristocrats.
“Discrimination is what divides the working class,” said one woman in a firm reply to these “left” opportunists. “The struggle against discrimination is what is needed to unite the workers. You’re placing the blame for disunity on the women themselves and on the communists leading the fight against it.”
The “Wing” states the basic truth that only socialism can do away with the basis of women’s oppression, but then turns this into an empty phrase by refusing to link the struggle for socialism with the just, immediate demands of the masses of women living under capitalism. They do the same with the struggle to build the party, placing it in opposition to the mass struggle. While sloganeering about party-building, they have refused to unite in the concrete efforts to build a party and take the pessimistic view that a party can’t be built at this time.
In part the “Wing” was able to pull off its disruption because few restrictions were placed on them by CAP, which is in the leadership of BWUF and had main control of the meeting. CAP failed to take a firm stand against their attacks, which in turn created confusion, drove many workers away and thus weakened the BWUF.
CAP further conciliated with these opportunists by failing to put forth a firm program of its own on the immediate demands for democratic rights that were the focus of the debate. This was reflected in the march and rally as well, where CAP used the slogan, “Build the Vanguard Party” in opposition to the coalition’s broader, democratic slogans like, “Free Todd and Woods’” or “Build the Fightback!”
All in all, however, the work of the forces that built and led both IWD events added up to a significant success, an advance over the previous year. The fact that the anti-imperialist activities were attended by hundreds of people, while the revisionists were unable to lead any activity is especially important in understanding the advances over last year.
Next year’s Women’s Day will surely see even greater victories!