First Published: The Communist, Vol. II, No. 2, October 8, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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As we move closer to winning the advanced workers to communism and as we begin to change the class composition and character of our organization and the movement as a whole, the various aspects of the woman question have become a focus for the struggle between a bourgeois and the proletarian line and require serious and persistent attention by the ML trend. When we speak of the “various aspects of the woman question” we are not only drawing attention to the fact that women are 50% of society, that male supremacy and chauvinism are products of class society and must be rooted out in the struggle for a communist society, but we are also drawing attention to specific questions like the role of the family under imperialism to the role of the family in the revolutionary struggle, to proletarian vs. bourgeois morality, to the development of female cadre and leadership, to our specific policy towards the struggle against male chauvinism, to the relationship between one’s “personal” life and political life, to the question of modeling ourselves as professional revolutionaries and bolshevizing our ranks, and so on.
For example, in one district of the organization we have been hit with these questions in practically every forward step we have taken and have basically taken a tailest stance in regards to them. For example we have been working with three older workers who have been in the plants for years and have for some time independently pursued Marxism-Leninism. Each has the ability to make valuable contributions to building the party based on his knowledge and ability and each wants to do so, but each has his particular problems around the woman question which have come directly between himself and the revolution. One was forced to move out of his house and into an unstable living situation because the woman he lived with was religious, backward politically, intolerant of his views and activities, and he was unable to resolve these contradictions successfully. Since then he has been unable to pursue political tasks and activities. Another worker has a wife who has similar religious views and is backwards politically. Rather than being able to overcome the unevenness, the worker has seen the movement as a means to a different and separate social life and as an opportunity to serve self rather than an opportunity to strengthen the family and to overcome the unevenness between he and his wife. Another worker, with a family and children was faced with the choice: the organization or the family, and has since had to stop political work until the family contradictions could be solved. With younger workers we have faced the same problems. One young worker who has pursued study, has the ability to establish a nucleus in his plant and lead the spontaneous struggle, has contradicions with the mother of his children and has had to withdraw from work partially as a result. Another young worker who was a member of a ML organization elsewhere agreed to pursue study and build a nucleus in his plant had to back off when his wife who is backward politically put the marriage on the line. Another related question and difficulty is the development of female cadre in a movement which still attracts people for bourgeois social reasons. One young woman came into our activities to develop politically but was seen primarily as a sex object or a potential mate to men around the organization. Rather than seeing her as a comrade who was primarily concerned with class struggle, they hoped she would be first concerned with bourgeois snuggle. These are a few but important examples of contradictions that have arisen as we moved forward. They are a product of many factors, some of which we would like to focus on in this article.
The most glaring contradiction has been how little time and effort we have spent on the woman question and how much time the bourgeoisie has saturating the whole society with ideas and practices encouraging decadence, the break-up of the family, reducing relationships between men and women to one of quest for sexual pleasure and unlimited intrigues, of all kinds of escapism, all summed up by the attitude of placing one’s own bourgeois needs and desires above and apart from the interests of the working masses.
The cultural scene is filled with X-rated decadent movies or orgies of senseless violence and personal despair. The radio and record industries fill homes and cars with one basic theme, “What ever it is, do it ’til you’re satisfied”. “Me and Mrs. Jones” becomes the motive for all kinds of relationships and fears. Adultery, infidelity and promiscuity have become commonplace and accepted. In the plants these days you will find somebody hustling pornographic magazines who is as active as a trade union leader.(Which is a comment on both.) Prostitution arranged in the plant is increasing and affairs between workers are commonplace and accepted. Decadent practices like homosexuality, which often is a by-product of the fear and confusion in society, are promoted by the bourgeoisie. Alcoholism, drug use and addiction, fanatical religious movements, and other forms of escapism and diversion are on the rise. Think about the hard and open and successful work being done by the Jehovah’s Witnesses in your plant offering a chance for a worker to be one of the chosen few to have a beautiful life in heaven after Armageddon. If you take a newspaper to work, a lot of people will be more interested in what their horoscope is than in the rising tide of the world’s revolutionary people. And then, of course there is the tragic by-products of the bourgeois influence. One out of two marriages end in divorce (even Ann Landers could not avoid it). A very large percentage of the murder rates involve husband and wife, lovers and so on. Child beatings are more and more commonplace as are suicides by people who just don’t know what to do.
Let’s back up a bit and trace the development of family and the oppression of women in class society. Stalin writes in ANARCHISM OF SOCIALISM,
There was a time, under the matriarchate, when women were regarded as the controllers of production. Why was this? Because under the kind of production then prevailing, primitive agriculture, women played the principal role in production, they performed the main functions, while the men roamed the forests in guest of game. Then came the time, under the patriachate, when the dominant position in production passed to men. Why did this change take place? Because under the kind of production prevailing at that time, stock breeding, in which the principle instruments of production were the spear, the lasso, and the bow and arrow, the principle role was played by men. v. 1 p. 342
With the change of focus of production, with the increase in production as a matriarchal society became a patriarchal society, came the overthrow of the mother-right, a practice of passing wealth onto the female’s side of the family. Men, now in command of production, took control of the wealth. The consolidation of male supremacy thus developed along with private property and completed the oppression of women.
Engels writes in ORIGIN OF THE FAMILY:
The overthrow of mother-right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and mere instrument for the production of children. This degraded position of the woman, especially conspicuous among the Greeks of the heroic and still more of the classical age, has gradually been palliated and glossed over, and sometimes clothed in a milder form; in no sense has it been abolished.
On this historic foundation and on the material basis of private property, the oppression of women was developed in the individual bourgeois family. Women’s second class status was concretized in her isolated domestic servitude within the family to a man who assumed the dominant role in social production and social life.
The working family in bourgeois society is the basic economic and social unit for the reproduction of labor-power. Relegated to a degraded position and to domestic servitude within the family in the bourgeois society generally, in the working family women are assigned the domestic chores of feeding and clothing the wage laborer and insuring his ability to sell his labor power from day to day. In addition women are given the task of bearing and tending to a new generation of wage-slaves. If women work, it is a load added to these chores.
Just as the super-exploitation and second-class status of oppressed national minorities in the work force has its material basis in the imperialist oppression of their nation of origin, so too the super-exploitation and second class status of women in the labor force has its material basis in the degraded status of women in the individual family in bourgeois society. In fighting against the oppression of women we attack not only the super-exploitation of women in the labor force and at the work-place; we must also attack the source of their oppression – the bourgeois family founded on private property.
In the first place, bourgeois marriages, rather than being founded on a mutual contract of equality, respect, commitment and understanding between a class conscious man and woman, often are formed under a variety or combination of bourgeois influences and pressures. People get married as a conclusion to a sexual affair or a result of pregnancy. Women are forced to seek earlier marriage as a result of not having any chance of security in a society where it is tremendously difficult to get a job or achieve any real economic self-sufficiency. Marriages often represent the hope of young people to get out of a rut, to leave home, to succeed and to have some stability, or just to break the pattern of loneliness and despair that goes along with capitalist order. A lot of pressure is on people to just get married without the understanding of what responsibilities marriage requires. Within the marriage bourgeois society creates un-evenness which if not recognized and consciously struggled against further weakens the marriage. Women and men are forced to play different roles: men being the provider, women doing the housework and raising the children; men being a part of socialized society, women left alone with the responsibilities of the home. Objectively this is strengthened by men1s experience in the military or in the factories where they are exposed to ideas and the responsibilities that go along with collective work and struggle. Furthermore the family in bourgeois society operates according to a notorious double standards monogamy for the wife, polygamy for the husband.
In addition the Family must bear the tremendous pressures that result from the exploitation and contradictions of capitalist society. A worker goes to work and gets pushed around, exploited and abused by the boss, goes out on the street and gets hassled by the cops, gets cheated at the food store and gas pump, gets taxed to death on Friday and gets hit in a thousand different ways, and in many cases has nowhere to go with the legitimate anger and frustration than home. A contradiction arises at home and it’s like pulling the plug in the crack in the dam – then there is an explosion – a fight, a divorce, a smouldering flame, a murder; or escape – alcohol, drugs, or an affair.
It is into this situation that we in the communist movement come into often unprepared ideologically, organizationally, and politically. One of the couple, most often the man, gets involved in the movement and as everything else there are two sides to their involvement. One side is the desire to fight the bourgeoisie and to stand on the side of the masses. The other side is often the possibility of an outlet from the responsibilities and pressures of marriage and the home and in some cases an opportunity to pursue an affair. It is the amateurishness of our movement, the influence of social democracy within our ranks that often encourages the weaknesses or at best puts us in a tailist position in regards to them. We are often unwilling or unable to recognize these contradictions and to resolve them successfully. Instead of defending the proletarian family and remolding our marriages along class conscious lines, we too often capitulate before the contradictions of the family in bourgeois society and follow the line of least resistance.
The main form of this capitulation is failing to struggle against male chauvinism. Male chauvinism is manifested in many ways, some open and blatant, other very subtle. The open forms: open and conscious hustling of women for sexual affairs, belittling the role of women in general in regards to politics or other aspects of our lives, reducing women in practice to being slaves of the home often manifested in not sharing in the tasks of keeping a house or raising a family, open joking and loose talk about women as sexual objects, double standards in marriage and so on. The more subtle forms of chauvinism: maneuvering with women, leaving open the possibility of an affair under certain conditions, belittling in theory and/or practice the task of winning women in general, particularly the wives or girl friends of those_men who do get involved, being liberal or tolerating chauvinist views of workers or friends, not actively taking up the struggle of women for democratic rights as our own, and so on. The best of comrades will make a woman feel that she is not being talked to politically but regarded sexually.
An even more subtle manifestation of male chauvinism is the encouragement passivity and slavishness. The woman is required to quietly suffer the abuse, not to speak out or fight against it, not take the responsibility to oppose and struggle against these bourgeois ideas and practices. This practice is often accepted by women as the “easy way out” and is often insisted on by men who strive to maintain the “stability” of their bourgeois relationship with their wife. The struggle against male chauvinism is necessarily a long one. The roots of these ideas are found with the formation of classes thousands of years ago.
Yes, we can easily prohibit and attack certain blatant and obvious aspects of chauvinism in our organizational policies and rules, yet this is far from enough. The struggle is against not only conscious ideas but against the force of habit which requires a long and patient course of struggle. With this in mind we must avoid the moralistic and one-sided method of struggle which often characterizes the feminist or some of the earlier struggles in the movement, but there can be no hesitation in taking up the struggle squarely. Particularly where marriage is involved we must be very sensitive to the concrete conditions. We must start from the position of defending the proletarian family and proletarian relationships between men and women. When there are even serious contradictions within a marriage we must do every thing possible to save the marriage and put it on firm proletarian footing, using its strengths to overcome its weaknesses. We must exhaust all possibilities before allowing a resolution of the contradictions by divorce. Superficial solutions to these contradictions that have been –practiced in our movement such as the idea that a “politically developed” man should only seek a relationship with an equally “politically developed” woman – a practice that has been used to justify affairs, break marriages, etc. and which fails to confront the hard job of overcoming unevenness among comrades — must be rejected. This is opportunism and follows the line of least resistance.
Another major form of capitulation to the contradictions posed by the Family in bourgeois society is the way communists have relegated various aspects of the woman question to minor importance.
Around March 8 there is a flurry of articles and attention to the question, but in the course of our work these questions are not given the attention they deserve. Philistine attitudes and activities on the part of men and women are tolerated. All of these qualities are part and parcel of the economism and right opportunism that has dominated our ranks and that must be ruthlessly fought against. This criticism certainly applies to our organization, the W.C.(M-L) and its predecessor the BWC. Our literature in the last one and a half years has included three pages on the woman question in THE BLACK LIBERATION STRUGGLE, THE BWC, and PROLETARIAN REVOLUTION which is characterized by its superficial character as well as by basic errors. An example is tracing the oppression of women to communal society and seeing male chauvinism as the ideology of the imperialist rather than of class society in general. In the old COMMUNIST we had the ridiculous contribution by the petty-bourgeois democrats in No. 6 — a reprint from Lenin on the status of women in the USSR. This was good in and of itself, but the presentation did not focus Lenin’s discussion on any of the major questions that we face today. Since we have taken over publication of THE COMMUNIST as the WC(M-L) we have covered Joan Little’s case and this has been important and timely – but not thorough. This lack of thoroughness and clarity in our propaganda has reflected the lack of thoroughness and clarity internally on these questions. Both in the BWC and also in the WC(ML) there have been blatant manifestations of bourgeois ideology around the women’s question. There has been blatant male chauvinism and gross failure to meet the standards of proletarian morality. Whereas we made real contributions to the struggle against revisionism, right opportunism, economism and the petty-bourgeois democratic trend within the communist movement on many different levels, with regard to our organization’s position on the woman question, and particularly our leadership, Lenin’s words remained painfully accurate: “Unfortunately it is still true to say of many of our comrades, ’scratch a communist and find a Philistine.’ Of course, you must scratch the sensitive spot, their mentality as regards women.” Shameful views and practices as regards to the woman question were tolerated if not encouraged in our ranks, buttressed by liberalism and female passivity. This was accompanied by other signs of degeneracy like excessive use of alcohol and even drug use. An interesting side note is that throughout the intense ideological struggle that has been part of our life for 2-3 years, these practices weren’t even raised, confirming the truth, as one comrade put it, that petty-bourgeois democrats won’t criticize petty-bourgeois democracy. In our struggle to play a leading role in the M-L trend and in our struggle to Bolshevize our ranks, we confront the necessity to take these questions with the seriousness they deserve.
Another form of capitulation is our failure to move forward aggressively to arm women with Marxism-Leninism and to fight every manifestation of oppression in bourgeois society that keeps women from becoming ideological political, and organizational leaders of our movement. Our struggle against the oppression of women is meaningless if it does not mobilize the tremendous revolutionary ability, energy, initiative and dedication too often bottled up and stifled in working women by their special oppression in bourgeois society and by male chauvinism in our own ranks. In this regard we must overcome every tendency to bourgeois female passivity. In arming themselves with Marxism-Leninism women take up the invincible weapon of their own liberation.
As Marxist-Leninists we must lead in the struggle for democratic rights for women without hesitation or compromise, remembering what Lenin said “Democracy” is nothing but the proclaiming and exercising of rights that are very little and very conventionally exercised under capitalism. But unless these rights are proclaimed, unless the struggle for immediate rights is waged, unless the masses are educated in the spirit of such a struggle, socialism is impossible”. (Lenin’s emphasis)
In Clara Zetkin’s discussion with Lenin on this question there is a passage which speaks to the contradiction we face in our own work as a result of our tailist approach.
The home life of the woman is a daily sacrifice to a thousand unimportant trivialities. The old master-right of the man still lives in secret. His slave takes her revenge, also secretly. The backwardness of women, their lack of understanding for the revolutionary ideas of the man decrease his joy and determination in fighting. They are like little worms which, unseen, slowly but surely, rot and corrode. I know the life of the worker, and not only from books. Our communist work among the women, our political work embraces a great deal of educational work among men. We must root out the old master idea to its last and smallest root) in the Party and among the masses.
All of these efforts will remain incomplete unless we look deep within our own ranks and consciously root out Philistine attitudes and practices in regards to the woman question. It is a fact that the class character and composition of the communist movement encourages many comrades to serve self within our ranks, taking advantage of the liberalism, amateurishness, and primitiveness of our movement to pursue and develop slavishness, careerism, and other forms of opportunism including bourgeois and philistine views and actions in regard to women. The questions involving relationships between men and women is intimately tied to the dichotomy perpetuated by the bourgeoisie between personal and political life, between pursuing one’s narrow self-interest and the general social interest. The woman question is a struggle between a bourgeois and proletarian world outlook. If this struggle is not pursued with vigilance, it will continually have grave consequences. The Party of Labor of Albania has brought focus to this question in their book on the struggle against revisionism.
At the foundation of bourgeois revisionist ideology, of all forms of the ideology of the exploiting classes, lies the feeling of pursuing personal interests, of selfishness and individualism, which has its source in private property itself, upon which these ideologies are based. Therefore, in the ideological struggle for the revolutionary education of the workers, the main blow must be struck precisely at this feeling for the subjection of narrow personal interests to the general social interest. Foto Cami, SOME QUESTIONS OF SOCIALIST CONSTRUCTION IN ALBANIA AND THE STRUGGLE AGAINST REVISIONISM, PP. 107-109.
We affirm that freedom for women is possible only in communism, that we must see the woman question as part of the struggle of the working class for the proletarian revolution, and that revolution is not possible without the full initiative and participation of the broad masses of women.
CAST AWAY ILLUSIONS, PREPARE TO STRUGGLE, BOLSHEVIZE THE RANKS!!!