Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Constance Scott

PWOC: Leading the left-sexist pack

First Published: Freedom Socialist, Spring 1981.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Philadelphia Workers Organizing Committee is accelerating its campaign against feminism and its timing couldn’t be worse. As the right wing steps up its heavy fire against women’s rights, these betrayers from the left follow suit. And radical solidarity, which insures the survival of all movements for progressive change, is dealt a treacherous blow from within.

At a May 1980 conference of feminist and socialist lesbians and gay men, PWOC’s Florence Buckley labeled the oppression of women and lesbians/gays as “secondary.” Moreover, said she, feminism is “anti-workingclass and inherently racist.”

Buckley’s speech, published in the July 1980 PWOC Organizer, defines feminism narrowly as a “special political theory” which considers divisions between men and women the “principal contradiction in our society.” In the campaign against rape, says PWOC, feminists disregard the “centrality of struggling against racist myths” and give the ruling class a free hand in perpetuating racism.

In the March 1981 Organizer, PWOC “celebrates” International Women’s Day editorially by answering PWOC critics – an answer that simply reiterates its false and illogical position.

PWOC is trying to buy the support of sexist male workers, white and Black, disregarding the burning need to unify all workers around mutual respect and attention to the most oppressed. PWOC not only ignores history, distorts reality, and betrays women, it would also deprive the left – already perilously isolated from its natural allies – of the energy, radicalism and leadership of women workers.

Sexism is divisive

Conjuring up a phony contradiction between the interests of sex and class, PWOC claims that feminism fights sexism at the expense of class struggle. This hierarchy of oppressions is a traditional cover for sexist leftists, male and female, who are blind to the fact that the increasingly decisive position of women in the working class and other struggles is pivotal to class struggle and revolutionary change.

PWOC refuses to understand that the women question cannot be severed from the class question historically, logically or factually. The overwhelming majority of women are workingclass, half of the class is female, male supremacy, not feminism, has divided women and men since the advent of male-owned private property, and women are the most exploited workers and 80% of the poor.

In a crude effort to mask its chauvinism, PWOC labels the entire women’s movement as petty bourgeois. This fiction ignores millions of working women, proletarian homemakers, socialist and socialist feminist workers in the feminist movement.

As in all other objectively revolutionary civil rights movements, class divisions exist among feminists. The establishment feminists, at whom PWOC sneers, parallel the middleclass misleaders among people of color and the system-serving bureaucrats and privileged aristocrats in the unions. But PWOC doesn’t talk about jettisoning these movements, or brand them middleclass.

“Overemphasized” rape

PWOC magnanimously allows the struggle against sexism to continue – if it is not “overemphasized.” This means subordinating the historic democratic demand for women’s rights which is the entire content of feminist ideology!

As an example, PWOC calls the anti-rape slogan “Take Back the Night” racist, and counsels women to “strongly oppose ... racist hysteria, and take care not to play into an overemphasis on rape which generates racist paranoia among women.”

Black men are more often prosecuted for rape than whites. And false charges of rape have led to lynchings of Black men. But it is a vicious distortion of history to blame these outrages on feminists who confront the violence that victimizes women of all races. To condemn feminism for the sadism of white lynch mobs is absurd.

Would PWOC ever warn people of color to be careful and not to overemphasize racism – because this would alienate white workers on a secondary issue? Yet PWOC (and their ilk) has the chutzpah to insult women and gays with this kind of insensitive prejudice.

Gays also get second billing

PWOC pontificates that lesbian/gay oppression is a “secondary strategy of capitalism to divide working people ... not directly an economic form of discrimination, although antigay prejudice has economic effects.”

Tell that to gays who are “found out” on the job or can’t get hired, or who work for less. Like women, gays are directly discriminated against on both the economic and social-cultural fronts. Far from being less directly subjugated, women and gays are doubly jeopardized and doubly rebellious.

Gay liberation does not divide the working class. Homophobia does. Lesbians/gays, who defy traditional sex roles and the nuclear family relations so essential to capitalism’s profits, already stand on the front lines of many labor struggles. PWOC’s heterosexism seeks to exempt it and other leftists from helping all workers understand the validity of gay rights.

To the lesbian of color, PWOC’s artificial separation of race and sex oppression is stunning. PWOC wants her to fragment and prioritize her daily struggle against the combined racism, sexism, and homophobia of her bosses and also of her “fellow” workers. But this is a political and psychological impossibility, and it would blunt, not enhance, worker militancy.

History rewritten

PWOC tells outright lies about the history of the suffragists, who supposedly allied with “racist politicians to secure the vote for white women at the expense of Black people.”

Most early feminists, Black and white, fought fiercely for abolition. Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, the Grimke sisters, Frederick Douglass and Susan B. Anthony worked to unite the struggles of Blacks and women. Unlike PWOC, these early suffragists understood that if the two movements were not linked, neither group could seriously challenge the core of its oppression.

Most male abolitionists, however, refused to defend women’s suffrage. As a result, women of all colors were denied the vote. Not until sixty years after Black men won enfranchisement did Black and white women gain it.

PWOC brings its historical myths up to date by naming Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem, and Shulamith Firestone as the “modern theoreticians of feminism.” That’s roughly equivalent to naming Reagan-supporter Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference as the ideological leader of the Black movement.

These women have differing ideologies, and represent only some segments of a vast movement. PWOC handily overlooks the long communist tradition of feminism and the countless socialist women, lesbians, and women of color whose organizing brought about its reemergence. The viable theoreticians of today’s movement are not publicized in the bourgeois media; they are the socialist feminist writers and the women unionists in the forefront of workplace organizing.

Reforming “sexism”

Viewing the women’s movement as a “broad democratic reform movement,” PWOC conveniently skims over the fact that women’s oppression is a cornerstone of the private property system. Without cheap, available female labor, profits would crumble. Women’s equality is a “reform” that capitalism cannot grant.

Sexism is lucrative. Women of all races are paid much less than men of all races. And wives provide unpaid labor in the home at no cost whatever to the bosses or government. Does PWOC seriously think these gross inequities can be eliminated by mild reforms?

Or is PWOC’s vision of woman’s proper role similar to what it is already – barefoot, pregnant, underpaid, overworked, neglected, dependent, victimized, scorned, and unemancipated second-class citizens?

Radical women haters

PWOC isn’t alone in its falsifications and entrenched misogyny.

PWOC stems from the Stalinist/Maoist tradition which insults women with proclamations that the unequal nuclear family is a “revolutionary unit” and that Soviet and Chinese women are totally equal to their menfolk.

PWOC also echoes most of the Trotskyist left. The condescending Socialist Workers Party considers women’s liberation a trivial adjunct to the labor movement. And Spartacist League still screams that feminism is reactionary and bourgeois.

All the left that is male-dominated is infected with the cancer of male chauvinism and clings desperately to the aristocracy of labor-privileged white males who will have to be pried loose from their stuffy conservatism by the militance of class-conscious women, people of color and gay workers.

Revolutionary feminism

The Freedom Socialist Party does not share the prejudices or perspective of these radical sexists. World socialism will wipe out all the roots of woman’s bondage, but the fight for that liberation must develop on this side of the barricades. And the deep divisions within the proletariat will only be healed with the aid of a revolutionary program that stresses the cardinal issues of sexism and racism.

A working class that discriminates can’t lead anyone and neither can sexist radicals.

The most oppressed section of the working class, working women of color, will be out front in the fight for a socialist feminist society. They will insure that all workers win their freedom in the process of revolutionary change. Even the likes of PWOC and other male chauvinist radicals will benefit from socialism – no matter how far behind they have trailed and how much treachery they have perpetrated in the surge of the female have-nots against the pillars of capital.

Constance Scott, National Organizer for Radical Women, lives in San Francisco and is active in the feminist and gay movements.