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Home page > 5. Documents of the FI > 1. World Congresses > 11. 11th World Congress - 1979 > II. The Fourth International and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation (...)

Socialist Revolution and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation

II. The Fourth International and the Struggle for Women’s Liberation Our Perspective

Thursday 8 January 2009, by Fourth International

The Fourth Intemational welcomes and champions the emergence of a new wave of struggles by women to end their centuries-old oppression. By fighting in the front lines of these battles, we demonstrate that the world party of socialist revolution can provide a leadership capable of carrying the struggle for women’s liberation through to its conclusion.

1. The Fourth Intemational welcomes and champions the emergence of a new wave of struggles by women to end their centuries-old oppression. By fighting in the front lines of these battles, we demonstrate that the world party of socialist revolution can provide a leadership capable of carrying the struggle for women’s liberation through to its conclusion. Our goal is to win the confidence and leadership of the masses of women by showing that our program and our class-struggle policies will lead to the elimination of women’s oppression along the path of successful proletarian revolution and the socialist reconstruction of society.

2. The perspective of the Fourth International stands in the long tradition of revolutionary Marxism. It is based on the following considerations:

a. The oppression of women emerged with the transition from preclass to class society. It is indispensable to the maintenance of class society in general and capita1ism in particular. Therefore, struggle by masses of women against their oppression is a form of the struggle against capitalist rule.

b. Women are both a significant component of the working class, and a potentially powerful ally of the working class in the struggle to overthrow capitalism. Without the socialist revolution, women cannot establish the preconditions for their liberation. Without the mobilization of masses of women in struggle for their own liberation, the working class cannot accomplish its historic tasks. The destruction of the bourgeois state, the eradication of capitalist property, the transformation of the economic bases and priorities of society, the consolidation of a new state power based on the democratic organization of the working class and its allies, and the continuing struggle to eliminate all forms of oppressive social relations inherited from class society - all this can ultimately be accomplished only with the conscious participation and leadership of an independent women’s liberation movement.

Thus our support for building an independent women’s liberation movement is part of the strategy of the revolutionary working-class party. It stems from the very character of women’s oppression, the social divisions created by capitalism itself and the way these are used to divide and weaken the working class and its allies in the struggle to abolish class society.

c. All women are oppressed as women. Struggles around specific aspects of women’s oppression necessarily involve women from different classes and social layers. Even some bourgeois women, revolting against their oppression as women, can break with their class and be won to the side of the revolutionary workers movement as the road to liberation.

As Lenin pointed out in his discussions with Clara Zetkin, action around aspects of women’s oppression has the potential to reach into the heart of the enemy class, to "foment and increase unrest, uncertainty and contradictions and conflicts in the camp of the bourgeoisie and its reformist friends. … “Every weakening of the enemy is tantamount to a strengthening of our forces."

Even more important from the point of view of the revolutionary Marxist party is the fact that resentment against their oppression as women can often be the starting point in the radicalization of decisive layers of petty-bourgeois women, whose support the working class must win.

d. While all women are oppressed, the effects of that oppression are different for women of different classes. Those who suffer the greatest economic exploitation are generally those who also suffer the most from their oppression as women. Thus the women’s liberation movement provides an avenue to reach and mobilize many of the most oppressed and exploited women who might not otherwise be touched so rapidly by the struggles of the working class.

e. While all women are affected by their oppression as women, the mass women’s liberation movement we strive to build must be basically working-class in composition, orientation, and leadership. Only such a movement, with roots in the most exploited layers of working-class women, will be able to carry the struggle for women’s liberation through to the end in an uncompromising way, allying itself with the social forces whose class interests parallel and intersect those of women. Only such a movement will be able to play a progressive role under conditions of sharpening class polarization.

f. In this long-term perspective, struggles by women in the unions and on the job have a special importance, reflecting the vital interrelationship of the women’s movement and the workers movement and their impact on each other.

This is testified to by the deepening radicalization of working-class women today, the growing understanding of forces in the women’s liberation movement that they must orient to the struggles of working women, and the willingness of sections of the trade-union bureaucracy in some countries to begin to take a few initiatives around women’s demands. All these developments point to the future character and composition of the women’s liberation movement and the kind of class forces who will come forward to provide leadership.

g. Struggles by women against their oppression as a sex are interrelated with, but not totally dependent on or identical with, struggles by workers as a class. Women cannot win their liberation except in alliance with the organized power of the working class. But this historical necessity in no way means that women should postpone any of their struggles until the current labor officialdom is replaced by a revolutionary leadership that picks up the banner of women’s liberation. Nor should women wait until the socialist revolution has created the material basis for ending their oppression. On the contrary, women fighting for their liberation must wait for no one to show them the way. They should take the lead in opening the fight and carrying it forward. In doing so, they will play a leadership role within the workers movement as a whole, and can help create the kind of class struggle leadership necessary to advance on all fronts.

h. Sexism is one of the most powerful weapons utilized by the ruling class to divide and weaken the workers movement. But it does not simply divide men against women. Its conservatizing weight cuts across sex lines, affecting both men and women.

Its hold is rooted in the class character of society itself, and the manifold ways in which bourgeois ideology is inculcated in every individual from birth. The bosses pit each section of the working class against all others. They promote the belief that women’s equality can be achieved only at the expense of men-by taking men’s jobs away from them, by lowering their wages, and by depriving them of domestic comforts. The reformist bureaucracy of the labor movement, of course, also plays upon these divisions to maintain its control.

Educating the masses of workers, male and female, through propaganda, agitation, and action around the needs of women is an essential part of the struggle to break the stranglehold of reactionary bourgeois ideology within the working class. It is an indispensable part of the politicalization and revolutionary education of the workers movement.

i. The full power and united strength of the working class can only be realized as the workers movement begins to overcome its deep internal divisions. This will only be achieved as the workers come to understand that those at the top of the wage-scale do not owe their relative material advantages to the fact that others are discriminated against and specially oppressed. Rather it is the bosses who profit from such stratification and division. The class interests of all workers are identical with the demands and needs of the most oppressed and exploited layers of the class - the women, the oppressed nationalities, the immigrant workers, the youth, the unorganized, the unemployed. The women’s movement has a particularly important role to play in helping the working class to understand this truth.

j. Winning the organized labor movement to fight for the demands of women is part of educating the working class to think socially and act politically. It is a central axis of the fight to transform the trade unions into instruments of revolutionary struggle in the interests of the entire working class.

In countering the efforts of the employers to keep the working class divided, we strive to win the ranks of the unions, and especia1ly the young, combative rebels. The more successful we are in winning this battle, the more we will see the labor bureaucracy divide. Those who refuse to defend the interests of the great majority of the most oppressed and exploited will be progressively pushed aside.

The struggle by the revolutionary party to win hegemony and leadership in the working class is inseparable from the battle to convince the working class and its organizations to recognize and champion struggles by women as their own.

k. The struggle against the oppression of women is not a secondary or peripheral issue. It is a life-and-death matter for the workers movement, especially in a period of sharpening class polarization.

Because women’s place in class society generates many deep-seated insecurities and fears, and because the ideology that buttresses women’s inferior status still retains a powerful hold, especially outside the working class, women are a particular target for all clerical, reactionary, and fascist organizations. Whether it is the Christian Democrats, the Falange, or the opponents of abortion rights, reaction makes a special appeal to women for support, claiming to address women’s particular needs, taking advantage of their economic dependence under capitalism, and promising to relieve the inordinate burden women bear during any period of social crisis.

From the “kinder-kirche-kueche" propaganda of the Nazi movement to the Christian Democrats’ mobilization of middle- class women in Chile for the march of the empty pots in 1971, history has demonstrated time and again that the reactionary mystique of motherhood-and-family is one of the most powerful conservatizing weapons wielded by the ruling class.

Chile once again tragically showed that if the workers movement fails to put forward and fight for a program and revolutionary perspective answering the needs of the masses of women, many petty- bourgeois and even working-class women will either be mobilized on the side of reaction, or neutralized as potential supporters of the proletariat.

The objective changes in women’s economic and social role, the new radicalization of women and the changes in consciousness and attitudes this has brought about, make it more difficult for reaction to prevail. This is a new source of revolutionary optimism for the working class. The mass explosion of feminist consciousness in Spain as one of the most significant components of the rising class struggle in the post-Franco era also demonstrates the speed with which the ideological hold of the church and state can begin to crumble in a period of revolutionary ferment, even in sectors of the population where it has been very strong.

1. While the victorious proletarian revolution can create the material foundations for the socialization of dornestic labor and lay the basis for the complete economic and social equality of women, this socialist reconstruction of society, placing all human relations on a new foundation, will not be accomplished immediately or automatically. During the period of transition to socialism the fight to eradicate all forms of oppression inherited from class society will continue. For example, the social division of labor into feminine and masculine tasks must be eliminated in all spheres of activity from daily life to the factories. Decisions will have to be made concerning the allocation of scarce resources. An economic plan that reflects the social needs of women, and provides for the most rapid possible socialization of domestic tasks, will have to be developed. The continuing autonomous organization of women will be a precondition for democratically arriving at the correct economic and social decisions. Thus even after the revolution the independent women’s liberation movement will play an indispensable role in assuring the ability of the working class as a whole, male and female, to carry this process through to a successful conclusion.

Our class-struggle strategy for the fight against women’s oppression, our answer to the question of how to mobilize the working class on the side of women, and the masses of women on the side of the working class, has three facets: our political demands, our methods of struggle, and our class independence.

Our Demands

Through the totality of the system of demands we put forward - which deal with every issue from freedom of political association, to unemployment and inflation, to abortion and child care, to workers control and the arming of the proletariat - we seek to build a bridge from the current needs and struggles of the working masses and their level of consciousness to the culminating point of socialist revolution. As part of this transitional program we put forward demands that speak to the specific oppression of women.

Our program points to the issues around which women can begin to struggle to loosen the bonds of their oppression and challenge the prerogatives of the ruling class. It recognizes and provides answers for all aspects of women’s oppression- legal, economic, social, sexual.

We direct our demands against those responsible for the economic and social conditions in which women’s oppression is rooted - the ruling class, its government and agencies. We orient the women’s liberation movement toward clear political goals. We present our demands and propaganda in such a way as to show how a society no longer based on private property, exploitation, and oppression would radically transform the lives of women in all spheres.

Our interlocking set of tasks and slogans includes immediate, democratic, and transitional demands. Some can and will be wrested from the ruling class in the course of the struggle leading toward the socialist revolution. Such victories bring inspiration, increasing confidence, and self- reliance. Other demands will be partially met. The most fundamental will be resisted to the end by those who control the property and wealth. They can be won only in the course of the conquest of power and the socialist reconstruction of society.

In fighting for these demands - both those providing solutions to the specific oppression of women and those answering other needs of the oppressed nationalities and working class as a whole - masses of women will come to understand the interrelationship of their oppression as victims of class rule.

Our demands directed toward eliminating the specific oppression of women are centered on the following points:

1. Full legal, political, and social equality for women

No discrimination on the bases of sex. For the right of all women to vote, engage in public activity, form or join political associations, live and travel where they want, engage in any occupations they choose. An end to all laws and regulations with special penalties for women, The extension to women of all democratic rights won by men.

2. The right of women to control their own bodies.

A woman has the sole right to choose whether or not to prevent or terminate pregnancy. This includes the rejection of population-control schemes which are tools of racism or class prejudice and which attempt to blame the evils of class society on the masses of working people and peasants.

a. An end to all government restrictions on abortion and contraception, including for minors, immigrant workers, and other noncitizens.

b. Free abortion on demand; no forced sterilization or any other govemment interference with the right of women to choose whether or when to bear children. The right to choose whatever method of abortion or contraception a woman prefers.

c. Free, widely disseminated birth control information and devices. State-financed birth control and sex education centers in schools, neighborhoods, hospitals, and factories.

d. Priority in medical research to development of totally safe, 100 percent effective contraceptives for men and women; an end to all medical and drug experimentation on women without their full, informed consent; nationalization of the drug industry.

3. An end to the hypocrisy, debasement, and coercion of bourgeois and feudal family laws.

a. Separation of church and state.

b. An end to all forced marriages and the buying and selling of wives. Abrogation of all laws against adultery. Abolition of laws giving men "conjugal rights" over their wives. An end to all laws, secular or religious, sanctioning penalties, physical abuse, or even murder of wives, sisters, and daughters for so-called crimes against male “honor”.

c. Abolition of all laws forbidding marriage between men and women of different races, religions, or nationalities.

d. Marriage to be a voluntary process of civil registration.

e. The right to automatic divorce on request of either partner. State provision for economic welfare and job training for the divorced woman.

f. Abolition of the concept of “illegitimacy.” An end to all discrimination against unwed mothers and their children. An end to the prisonlike conditions that govern special centers set up to take care of unwed mothers and other women who have nowhere else to go.

g. The rearing, social welfare, and education of children to be the responsibility of society, rather than the burden of individual parents. Abolition of all laws granting parents property rights and total control over children. Strict laws against child abuse.

h. An end to all laws victimizing prostitutes. An end to all laws reinforcing the double standard for men and women in sexual matters. An end to all laws and regulations victimizing youth for sexual activities.

i. An end to the mutilation of women through the practice of infibulation or clitorectomy.

j. Abrogation of all antihomosexual laws. An end to all discrimination against homosexuals in employment, housing, child custody. An end to the insulting stereotyping of homosexuals in textbooks and mass media, or portrayal of homosexual relations as perverted and against nature.

k. Violence against women- often sanctioned by reactionary family laws - is a daily reality that all women experience in some form. If it is not the extreme of rape or beatings, there is still the ever present threat of sexual assault implicit in the widespread circulation of pornographic literature, and the obscene comments and gestures women are constantly subjected to in the streets and on the job.

We demand the elimination of laws predicated on the assumption that female rape victims are the guilty party; establishment of centers - independent of the police and courts - designed to welcome, counsel, and help battered wives, rape victims, and other female victims of sexual violence; improvement of public transportation, street lighting, and other public services that make it safer for women to go out alone.

Violence against women is a vicious product of the general social and economic conditions of class society. It inevitably increases during periods of social crisis. But we strive to educate women and men that sexual violence cannot be eradicated without changing the foundation from which the economic, social, and sexual degradation of women flows. We expose the racist and anti-working class use of antirape laws to victimize men of oppressed nationalities. We oppose demands raised by some feminists to inflict drastic penalties on convicted rapists or to strengthen the repressive apparatus of the state, whose cops are among the most notorious brutalizers of women.

We oppose any kind of censorship of literature, even under the guise of campaigns against pornography.

4. Full economic independence for women.

a. Guaranteed jobs at union wages for all women who want to work, coupled with a sliding scale of hours and wages to combat inflation and unemployment among men and women. A shorter work -week for all.

b. Elimination of laws that discriminate against women’s right to receive and dispose of their own wages and property.

c. Equal pay for equal work. For a national minimum wage based on union scale.

d. No discrimination against women in any trade, profession, job category, apprenticeship, or training program.

e. Preferential hiring, training, job upgrading, and seniority adjustments for women and other superexploited layers of the labor force in order to overcome the effects of decades of systematic discrimination against them. No preferential hiring for men in traditionally female-dominated trades and industries.

f. Paid maternity leaves for father and mother with no loss of job or seniority.

g. Paid work leaves to care for sick children to be given to men and women alike.

h. The extension of beneficial protective legislation (providing special working conditions to women) to cover men, in order to improve working conditions for both men and women and prevent the use of protective legislation to discriminate against women.

i. A uniform retirement age for men and women, with each individual free to take retirement or not.

j. Part-time workers to be guaranteed the same hourly wages and benefits as full-time workers.

k. Compensation at union rates throughout periods of unemployment for all women and men, including youth who cannot find a place in the work force, regardless of marital status, or previous employment record. Unemployment compensation to be protected against inflation by automatic increases.

5. Equal educational opportunities.

a. Free, open admissions for all women to all institutions of education and all programs of study, including on-the-job training programs. Special preferential admissions programs to encourage women to enter traditionally male-dominated fields and learn skills and trades from which they have previously been excluded.

b. An end to all forms of pressuring women to prepare themselves for "women’s work," such as homemaking, secretarial work, nursing, and teaching.

c. Special education and refresher courses to aid women reentering the job market.

d. An end to portrayal in textbooks and mass media of women as sex objects and stupid, weak, emotionally dependent creatures. Courses designed to teach the true history of women’s struggles against their oppression. Physical education courses to teach women to develop their strength and be proud of their athletic abilities.

e. No expulsion of pregnant students or unwed mothers, or segregation into special facilities.

6. Reorganization of society to eliminate domestic slavery of women.

The family as an economic unit cannot be "abolished" by fiat. It can only be replaced over time. The goal of the socialist revolution is to create economic and social altematives that are superior to the present family institution and better able to provide for the needs currently met, however poorly, by the family, so that personal relationships will be a matter of free choice and not of economic compulsion. To ultraleft propaganda and agitation for the "abolition" of the family, we counterpose:

a. Free, government-financed twenty- four-hour childcare centers and schools, conveniently located and open to all children from infancy to early adolescence regardless of parents’ income, employment situation, or marital status; trained male and female personnel; elimination of all sexist educational practices; child-care policies to be decided by those who use the centers.

b. Free medical care for all and special child-care facilities for children who are ill.

c. Systematic development of low-cost, high-quality social services such as cafeterias, restaurants, and take-out food centers available to all; collective laundry facilities; housecleaning services organized on an industrial basis.

d. A crash, government-financed development program to provide healthful, uncrowded housing for all; no rent to exceed 10 percent of income; no discrimination against single women or women with children.

These demands indicate the issues around which women will fight for their liberation, and show how this fight is interrelated with the demands raised by other oppressed sectors of society and the needs of the working class as a whole. It is in struggle along these lines that the working class will be educated to understand and oppose sexism in all its forms and expressions.

The women’s liberation movement raises many issues. The development of the movement has already demonstrated that not all will come to the fore with equal force at any given time. Which demands to raise at any particular time in the course of a particular struggle, the best way to formulate specific demands so that they are understable to the masses and able to mobilize them in action, when to advance new demands to move the struggle forward – the answer to those tactical problems is the function of the revolutionary party, the art of politics itself.

Our Methods of Struggle

1. We utilize the proletarian methods of mobilization and action in order to achieve these demands. Everything we do is geared to bring the masses themselves into motion, into struggle, whatever their current levelof consciousness. The masses do not learn simply by being exposed to ideas or by the exemplary action of others. Only through their own direct involvement will the political consciousness of the masses develop, grow, and be transformed. Only through their own experience will millions of women be won as allies in the revolutionary struggle and come to understand the need to get rid of an economic system based on exploitation.

Our goal is to teach the masses to rely on their own united power. We utilize elections and other institutions of bourgeois democracy to clearly present our program to the broadest possible numbers of workers. But we counterpose extraparliamentary mass action - demonstrations, meetings, strikes, occupations - to reliance on elections, lobbying, parliaments, legislatures, and the bourgeois and petty- bourgeois politicians who haunt them.

Our class-struggle methods are geared to awakening the initiatives of the great majority of women; to bring them together; to destroy their dornestic isolation and their lack of confidence in their own abilities, intelligence, independence, and strength. Struggling together with them, we aim to show that class exploitation is the root of wornen’s oppression and its elimination the only road to emancipation.

Just as we strive to develop the class consciousness of the women’s liberation movement, we try to win the workers movement to take up the struggle against each aspect of women’s oppression.

In every struggle, we aim to educate women to understand the class inequality that sharpens the oppression of the most exploited. We try to lead the movement to address itself first and foremost to mobilizing wornen of the working class and oppressed nationalities. Through the system of demands we advance and the propaganda we put forward, we strive to move the struggle in an anticapitalist direction. We highlight the social implications of demands and expose the logic of profit and the conditions of class society that limit the capacity of the ruling class to implement in practice even the concessions wrung from it through struggle.

2. The oppression of women as a sex constitutes the objective basis for the mobilization of women in struggle through their own organizations. For that reason the Fourth International supports and helps build the women’s liberation movement.

By the wornen’s movement we mean all the women who organize themselves at one level or another to struggle against the oppression imposed on them by this society: women’s liberation groups, consciousness-raising groups, neighborhood groups, student groups, groups organized at workplaces, trade-union commissions, organizations of women of oppressed nationalities, lesbian-feminist groups, action coalitions around specific demands. The women’s movement is characterized by its heterogeneity, its penetration into all layers of society, and the fact that it is not tied to any particular political organization, even though various currents are active within it. Moreover, some groups and action coalitions, though led and sustained by women, are open to men as well, such as the National Organization for Women in the United States and the National Abortion Campaign in Britain.

While most women’s groups initially developed outside the mass organizations of the working class, the deepening radicalization has led more and more working-class women to find ways to organize themselves within their class organizations. In Spain, large numbers of women joined the COs (Workers’ Commissions) and brought life to their women’s committees. In France, thousands of women now participate in trade-union commissions as well as Family Planning organizations and women’s groups. In Bolivia, miners’ wives have formed housewives’ committees affiliated to the COB (Bolivian Workers Federation).

But all these are forms of the turbulent and still largely unstructured reality called the independent or autonomous women’s movement.

By independent or autonomous we do not mean independent of the class struggle or the needs of the working class. On the contrary, only by fusing the objectives and demands of the women’s movement with the struggle of the working class will the necessary forces be assembled to achieve women’s goals.

By independent or autonomous we mean that the movement is organized and led by women; that it takes the fight for women’s rights and needs as its first priority, refusing to subordinate that fight to any other interests; that it is not subordinate to the decisions or policy needs of any political tendency or any other social group; that it is willing to carry through the fight by whatever means and together with whatever forces prove necessary.

Clearly, not every group within the movement measures up to those criteria fully or equally, but such is the character of the independent women’s liberation movement we seek to build.

3. The dominant organizational form of the women’s movement has been all- female groups. These have emerged in virtually all arenas from the schools and churches to the factories and trade unions. This expresses the determination of women to take the leadership of their own organizations in which they can learn and develop and lead without fear of being put down or dictated to by men or having to compete with them from the start.

Before women can lead others they must throw off their feelings of inferiority and self-deprecation. They must learn to lead themselves. Feminist groups that consciously and deliberately exclude men help many women to take the first steps toward discarding their own slave mentality, gaining confidence, pride, and courage to act as political beings.

The small "consciousness raising" groups that have emerged everywhere as one of the most prevalent forms of the new radicalization help many women to realize that their problems do not arise from personal shortcomings, but are socially created and common to other women.

If they remain inward-turned and limit themselves to discussion circles as a substitute for joining with others to act, they can become an obstacle to the further political development of the women involved. But they most often lay the groundwork for women to break out of their isolation for the first time, to gain confidence, and to move into action.

The desire of women to organize themselves in all-female groups is the opposite of the practice followed by many mass Stalinist parties that organize separate male and female youth organizations for the purpose of repressing sexual activity and reinforcing sex-stereotyped behavior- i.e., the inferiority of women. The independent all-female groups that have emerged today express in part the distrust many radicalizing women feel for the mass reformist organizations of the working class, which have failed so miserably to fight for their needs.

Our support for and work to build the independent women’s liberation movement distinguishes the Fourth International today from many sectarian groups that claim to stand on Marxist orthodoxy as represented by their interpretations of the resolutions of the first four congresses of the Third International. Such groups reject the construction of any women’s organizations except those tied directly to and under the politicaI control of their party.

To those "Marxists" who claim that women’s liberation groups organized on the basis of women only divide the working class along sex lines, we say it is not those fighting against their oppression who are responsible for creating or maintaining divisions. Capitalism divides the working class-by race, by sex, by age, by nationality, by skilI levels, and by every other means possible. Our job is to organize and support the battles of the most oppressed and exploited layers who are raising demands that represent the interests of the entire class and who will lead the struggle for socialism. Those who suffer most from the old will fight the most energetically for the new.

4. The forms through which we work can vary greatly depending on the concrete circumstances in which our organizations find themselves. Our tactics are dictated by our strategic aim, which is to educate and lead in action forces much broader than ourselves, especially the decisive forces of the working class, to help build a mass women’s liberation movement, to strengthen a class-struggle wing of the women’s movement, and to recruit the best cadre to the revolutionary party.

Factors that must be taken into account include the strength of our own forces; the size, character, and political level of the women’s liberation forces; the strength of the liberal, Social Democratic, Stalinist, and centrist forces against whom we must contend; and the general political context in which we are working. It’s a tactical question whether we should organize women’s liberation groups on a broad socialist program, work through existing organizations of the women’s liberation movement, build broad action coalitions around specific issues, work through trade-union commissions or caucuses in other mass organizations, combine several of these activities, or work through some altogether different forms.

No matter what organizational form we adopt, the fundamental question to be decided is the same: what specific issues and demands should be raised under the given circumstances in order to most effectively mobilize women and their allies in struggle?

5. There is no contradiction between supporting and building all-female organizations to fight for women’s liberation, or for specific demands relating to women’s oppression, and simultaneously building mass action coalitions involving both men and women to fight for the same demands. Campaigns around the right to abortion have provided a good example of this. Women will be the backbone of such campaigns, but since the fight is in the interests of the working masses as a whole, our perspective is to win support for the movement from all organizations of the working class and the oppressed.

6. Our perspective of trying to mobilize masses of women in action can often best be achieved in the present period through united-front-type action campaigns, which mobilize the broadest possible support around concrete demands. This is all the more true, given the relative weakness of the sections of the Fourth International and the relative strength of the liberals and our reformist, class-collaborationist opponents. For many women and men, participation in the actions organized by such campaigns has been their first step toward support for the political goals of the women’s liberation movement. The united-front-type abortion campaigns in numerous countries provide an example of this type of action.

Through such united-front-type actions we can bring the greatest power to bear against the capitalist government and educate women and the working class concerning their own strength. Insofar as the liberal "friends" of women, the Stalinists, Social Democrats, and trade-union bureaucrats refuse to support such united campaigns for women’s needs, they will isolate and expose themselves by their own inaction, opposition, or willingness to subordinate women’s needs to their search for an alliance with the supposedly “progressive" sectors of the ruling class. And if mass pressure obliges them to support such actions, this can only broaden the mass appeal of the campaigns and increase the contradictions within the reformist and liberal forces.

As we have already seen so clearly around the abortion question, such united- front-type action campaigns are of particular importance in deepening the interaction between the independent women’s movement and the labor movement, since they put the greatest pressure on the labor bureaucracy to respond.

7. Because our orientation is to build a women’s movement that is basically working-class in composition and leadership, and because of the interconnection between the fight for women’s liberation and the transformation of the trade unions into instruments that effectively defend the interests of the whole class, we give special importance to struggles by women in the unions and on the job. Our aim is to organize women to actively participate in their unions and in the women’s liberation movement.

Here as elsewhere in capitalist society, women are subject to male domination, to discrimination as an inferior sex that is out of its “natural place." But the growing number of women in the work force and their deepening consciousness of their double oppression, have already brought significant changes in the attitudes of working women, strengthening their inclination to organize, unionize, and fight for their rights.

Women workers are involved in many struggles for general demands relating to the economic needs and job conditions of all workers. They also frequently raise the special needs of women workers such as equal pay, maternity benefits, child-care facilities, and preferential hiring and training. Both are central to the struggle for women’s liberation as well as to the working class in general. Such struggles and demands by women workers will assume a greater weight as the class struggle deepens under the impact of the economic crisis. They will have a greater and greater impact on the women’s liberation movement.

Most women who enter into such struggles do not think of themselves as feminists. They simply think they are entitled to equal pay for doing the same job as a man, or believe they have a right to be employed in some traditionally "masculine" line of work. They often protest vigorously that they are not feminists.

Working women who become involved in struggles on the job confront the same issues and conditions that have given rise to the independent women’s movement.

They often face sexist harassment and abuse which is organized and promoted by their foremen and supervisors. Even when it comes from their fellow workers, it is often the result of an atmosphere fostered by the employer. Women face the sometimes difficult job of fighting to convince the union to defend them against serious harassment and victimization by management personnel. They have to convince fellow workers that when they give women a hard time on the job, they are only doing the boss’s job for him, and playing into his divide-and-rule tactics.

As women begin to play an active role, to take on leadership responsibilities, to prove their leadership capacities to themselves and others, to gain confidence and play an independent role, they develop a greater understanding of what the women’s liberation movement is fighting for. The correct presentation of clear, concrete demands and objectives by the feminist movement is indispensable in reaching and involving millions of working women whose conscious political development begins as they try to confront their problems as women who must also work a job to earn a living.

8. The growing weight and role of women in the labor movement has an important impact on the consciousness of many male workers, who begin to see women more as equal partners in struggle and less as weak creatures who must be coddled and protected.

In this context, demands for preferential hiring, training, and job promotion for women in the traditionally male-dominated sectors of the economy have a special importance.

a. They challenge the division within the working class along sex lines, divisions that are fostered and maintained by the bosses in order to weaken the working class and hold down the wages and working conditions of the entire class.

b. They help educate both male and female workers to appreciate the material effects of discrimination against women, and the need for conscious measures to overcome the effects of centuries of enforced subjugation.

c. As women begin to break down the traditional division of labor along sex lines and establish their equal right to employment and their ability to perform "male" jobs as well as men, sexist attitudes and assumptions within the working class are undercut and the social division of labor in all spheres is challenged.

Struggles that open the doors for women to enter the educational, occupational, and leadership realms previously dominated by men pose in the clearest possible manner the eradication of women’s inferior social status. Along with demands that raise the basic democratic rights of women, and those that go toward socializing the domestic labor women perform, such as the expansion and improvement of child-care facilities, they have a powerful educational impact within the working class.

9. Such demands also have a special importance as part of thé fight to transform the unions into revolutionary instruments of class struggle and challenge the sexist bias of the labor bureaucracy. The union bureaucracy bases itself on the most privileged layers of male workers, who usually see preferential demands as a threat to their immediate prerogatives. The most conscious elements of the bureaucracy thus adamantly oppose those demands raised by the most oppressed and exploited sectors of the working class which are aimed at eradicating the deep divisions within the class.

An important part of our strategic orientation to develop a class-struggle left wing in the trade-union movement is to utilize the growing weight of forces like the women’s liberation movement to pose the key social and political issues on which the labor movement should be playing a leadership role.

As the ranks of the unions are won to support such struggles the reactionary antiwoman and therefore anti-working class policies of the labor bureaucracy will be exposed and new forces will come forward to lead.

10. There are many difficulties in organizing women workers. Precisely because of their oppression as women, they are less likely to be unionized or to have a strong class consciousness. Their participation in the labor force is frequently more sporadic. Their double burden of responsibilities and chores at home is fatiguing and time-consuming, leaving them less energy for political and trade-union activity. The gross inadequacy of child-care facilities makes participation in meetings especially difficult.

For these reasons, the fight to convince the trade unions to take up the special demands of women is inseparable from the fight for trade-union democracy. Trade-union democracy includes not only issues such as the right of the membership to vote on all question, election of all leadership bodies and personnel, and the right to form tendencies. It also implies special measures that permit women to participate with full equality-child-care facilities organized by the union during meetings, union commissions that deal specifically with women’s needs, the right to meet in women’s caucuses when necessary, special provisions to meet during working hours, and measures to assure adequate representation of women on all leadership bodies. Within the workers movement, challenging sexist attitudes and practices is an integral part of the fight for trade-union democracy and class solidarity.

11. If we give special importance to the struggles of women working outside the home it is not because we deprecate the oppression suffered by housewives. On the contrary, we understand and put forward a program that answers the deep problems faced by women in the home, the overwhelming majority of whom are working-class women, who will spend some part of their life in the labor market in addition to carrying out their domestic responsibilities. We offer a perspective of escape from the mind-deadening drudgery of housework, the iso1ation it imposes on each individual woman, the economic dependence of housewives, and the fear and insecurity this produces. We counterpose our program of socialization of housework and the integration of women into the productive labor force on an equal basis to the alternatives offered by reaction - a glorification of housework and motherhood and proposa1s to compensate women for their domestic slavery through wages for housework or similar superficially alluring schemes.

As capitalism in crisis shifts more and more economic burdens onto the individual family, it is often housewives, responsible for trying to stretch the family income to cover the basic necessities, who first take to the streets in protest over food shortages and soaring inflation. Such movements can be a first step toward political consciousness and collective action for thousands of women. They offer an opening and a challenge to the labor movement to join with and help provide leadership and direction for such protests - which can develop with explosive rapidity. Demands for joint worker-consumer price surveillance committees provide common ground for the labor movement, protesting housewives, and other consumers.

Unlike housewives, however, working women are already semiorganized by the labor market. Their place within the working class, within the workers movement, and their economic status put them in a position to play a pivotal leadership role in the struggles of women and of the working class as a whole.

12. There is no contradiction between building the independent women’s liberation movement, building trade unions, and building a revolutionary Marxist Party of women and men.

The struggle for socialism requires all three. They serve different functions. The mass feminist movement mobilizes women in struggle around their needs and through their own independent forms of organization. The trade unions are the basic economic defense organizations of the working-class. The mass revolutionary Marxist party, through program and action, provides leadership for the working class and its allies, including women, and uncompromisingly orients all facets of the class struggle toward a combined drive to establish a workers government and abolish capitalism.

There is no objective basis for a separate revolutionary Marxist women’s organization. Unless women and men share equally in the rights and responsibilities of membership and leadership in a party that develops a political program and activities that represent the interests of all the oppressed and exploited, the party can never lead the working class to accomplish its historic tasks.

We maintain that there are no exclusively "women’s issues." Every question of concern to the female half of humanity is likewise a broader social question of vital interest to the working class as a whole. While we raise demands that deal with the specific oppression of women, we have no separate program for women’s liberation. Our demands are an integral part of our transitional program for the socialist revolution.

13. The program of the revolutionary party synthesizes the lessons of struggles against all forms of economic and social exploitation and oppression. The party expresses the historic interests of the proletariat through its program and action. Thus it not only learns from the participation of its members in the women’s liberation movement. It also has an indispensable role to play. Through our work to build the independent women’s movement, we deepen the party’s understanding of women’s oppression and the struggle against it. And we also strive to win ever greater forces to an effective strategy for women’s liberation, that is, to a class-struggle perspective.

We do not demand agreement with our program as a precondition for building the independent women’s movement. On the contrary, a broad-based movement, within which a wide range of personal experiences and political perspectives can contend in a framework of democratic debate and discussion, can only strengthen the political confidence and combativity of the movement. It enhances the possibility of developing a correct perspective.

However, we do not strive for the organic unity of all components of the women’s movement at all costs. We fight for the broadest possible unity in action on the basis of demands and activities that genuinely reflect the objective needs of women, which is also the program in the interests of the working class.

We try to build the strongest possible wing within the women’s liberation movement of those who share our class-struggle perspectives. A consistent struggle against all aspects of women’s oppression means resolutely combatting all attempts to divert women’s struggles into the reformist deadend of managing the rulers’ austerity programs, or towards a search for individual solutions. We strive to recruit the most conscious and combative to the revolutionary party.

Our goal is to win the leadership of the women’s liberation movement by showing women in practice that we have the program and perspectives that can lead to liberation. This is not a sectarian stance. Nor does it indicate a manipulative attempt to dominate or control the mass movement. On the contrary, it reflects our conviction that the struggle against women’s oppresssion can be won only if the feminist movement develops in an anticapitalist direction. Such an evolution is not automatic. It depends on the demands put forward, the class forces toward which the feminist movement orients, and the forms of action in which it engages. Only the conscious intervention of the revolutionary party and its ability to win the confidence and leadership of women fighting for their liberation offers any guarantee that the women’s struggle will ultimately be victorious.

14. We are concerned with all aspects of women’s oppression. However, as a political party based on a program that represents the historic interests of the working class and all the oppressed, our prime task is to help direct the women’s liberation movement toward political action that can effectively lead to the eradication of private property in which that oppression is rooted. Around every facet of women’s oppression we strive to develop demands and actions that challenge the social and economic policies of the bourgeoisie and point toward the solutions that would be possible were it not for the fact that all social policies are decided on the basis of maximizing private profits.

Our approach to the struggle for women’s liberation as an eminently political question often brings us into conflict with petty-bourgeois radical-feminist currents, who counterpose the development of new individual "life-styles" to political action directed against the state. They blame men instead of capitalism. They counterpose reforming men as individuals, trying to make them less sexist, to organizing against the bourgeois govemment which defends and sustains the institutions of class society responsible for male supremacy and women’s oppression. They often attempt to build utopian "counterinstitutions" in the midst of class society.

As revolutionists we recognize that the problems many women seek to resolve in this way are real and preoccupying. Our criticism is not directed against individuals who try to find a personal way out from under the intolerable pressures capitalist society places on them. But we point out that for the masses of workers there is no "individual" solution. They must fight collectively to change society before their "life-style" will be significantly altered. Ultimately there are no purely private solutions for any of us. Individual escapism is a form of utopianism that can only end in disillusionment and the dispersal of revolutionary forces.

Our Class Independence

1. Political independence is the third facet of our class-struggle strategy for the fight against women’s oppression. We do not defer or subordinate any demand, action, or struggle of women to the political needs and concerns of either the bourgeois or reformist political forces with their parliamentary shadowboxing and electoral maneuvers.

2. We fight to keep women’s liberation organizations and struggles independent of all bourgeois forces and parties. We oppose attempts to divert women’s struggles toward the construction of women’s caucuses inside of or oriented to capitalist parties or bourgeois politics, as has occurred in the United States, Canada, and Australia. We oppose the formation of a women’s political party, such as arose in Belgium and has been advocated by some feminist groups in Spain and elsewhere. The election of more women to public office on a liberal-bourgeois or radical petty- bourgeois program, while a reflection of changing attitudes, can do nothing to further the interests of women.

Women’s liberation is part of the historic struggle of the working class against capita1ism. We strive to make that link a conscious one on the part of women and of the working class. But we do not reject support from bourgeois figures or politicians who voice their agreement with any of our demands or goals. That strengthens our side, not theirs. It is their contradiction, not ours.

We strive for united-front action on specific demands and campaigns with the broadest possible forces, especially the mass reformist parties of the working class. But we reject the political perspectives of the Stalinist and Social Democratic parties.

The policies and conduct of both these currents within the working-class movement are based on preserving the institutions of the capitalist system, including the family, regardless of any lip service they may pay to the struggles of women against their oppression. Both are ready to subordinate the needs of women to whatever class-collaborationist deal they are trying to negotiate at the moment, whether it be with the monarchy in Spain, the Christian Democrats in Italy, or the bourgeois opposition parties in West Germany or Britain. The Stalinists never tire of telling women that the road to happiness is through “advanced democracy" or the “antimonopoly coalition." They advise women not to demand more than "democracy" (i.e., capitalism) can give. The Social Democrats, especially when they are managing "austerity" programs for the bourgeoisie, are never s1ow to implement the cutbacks in social services demanded by the ruling class, measures that frequently hit women the hardest.

4. It is only through an uncompromising programmatic and organizational break from the bourgeoisie and all forms of class collaborationism that the working class and its allies, including women struggling for their liberation, can be mobilized as a powerful and self-confident force capable of carrying the socialist revolution through to the end. The task of the revolutionary Marxist party is to provide the leadership to educate the working masses, including the women’s movement, through action and propaganda in this class struggle perspective.

Tasks of the Fourth International Today

1. The new rise of the women’s liberation movement has proceeded unevenly on a world scale, and feminist consciousness has had varying degrees of impact. But the speed with which revolutionary ideas and lessons of struggle are transmitted from one country to another, and from one sector of the world revolution to another, ensures the continuing spread of women’s liberation struggles. Increasingly widespread questioning of the traditional role of women creates an atmosphere conducive to Marxist educationand propaganda, as well as concrete action in support of the liberation of women. Through our press and propaganda activities the Fourth International has growing opportunities to explain the source and nature of women’s oppression, our program for eradicating that oppression along with the class society in which it is rooted, and the revolutionary dynamic of women’s struggle for liberation.

2. The involvement of our sections and sympathizing organizations in the women’s liberation movement in numerous countries has shown that considerable potential exists for helping to organize and lead action campaigns around issues raised in the struggle against women’s oppression. Such campaigns often provide opportunities especially for our women comrades to gain valuable experience and to play a leadership role in the mass movement. They are frequently an avenue through which even relatively small numbers of comrades can play a significant political role and win influence among much broader forces. Our support for and active participation in the women’s 1iberation movement has already won us many new members.

The orientation of the sections and sympathizing organizations of the Fourth Intemational is to commit our forces to building the women’s liberation movement and action campaigns around specific issues like abortion, child care, the right to a job, and other aspects of our program.

We also encourage international solidarity in the women’s movement, and where possible, international coordination of action campaigns around common issues. The intemational campaign on abortion in which our sections have frequently played a decisive role, is a good example of the type of international coordination that is possible.

3. In addition to participating in all the various independent organizational forms that have emerged as part of the radicalization of women, we must integrate women’s liberation propaganda and activity into all our areas of work, from the trade unions to the student milieu. It is especially among the youth – students, young workers, young housewives – that we will find the greatest receptivity to our ideas and program and readiness for action.

Women’s liberation work is not the responsibility of women comrades alone, although they will have to lead it. As with every other question, the entire membership and leadership of the party must be knowledgeable about our work, collectively participate in determining our political line, and take responsibility for carrying our campaigns and propaganda into all areas of the class struggle where we are active. Male as well as female comrades will help to drive this forward.

4. To organize and carry out systematic women’s liberation work, sections of the Fourth International should establish commissions or fractions composed of those involved in this work. Such fractions would include male as well as female comrades depending on the activities in which we are involved.

They should help the appropriate leadership bodies to give regular attention to all aspects of our work around issues and demands raised by the women’s liberation movement, including proposals for internal education of our own membership. By establishing such commissions and fractions which - together with the leadership bodies - are responsible for discussing and implementing systematic work we can take maximum advantage of the opportunities and openings, and make our own membership fully aware of the political importance of the struggle for women’s liberation.

5. Systematic education about the history of women’s oppression and struggles, and the theoretical and political questions involved, should be organized within the sections of the Fourth International. This education should not be limited to special schools from time to time but must become part of the daily life of the organization. It must be part of the basic political education of each member as they acquire and deepen their understanding of the fundamental positions of revolutionary Marxism.

We have no illusions that sections can be islands of the future socialist society floating in a capitalist morass, or that individual comrades can fully escape the education and conditioning absorbed from the everyday effort to survive in class society. Sexist attitudes can and do sometimes find expression within the ranks of the Fourth International. But it is a condition of membership in the Fourth International that the conduct of comrades and sections be in harmony with the principles on which we stand. We educate the members of the Fourth International to a full understanding of the character of women’s oppression and the pernicious ways in which it is expressed. We strive to create an organization in which language, jokes, personal violence, and other acts expressing chauvinist bigotry toward women are not tolerated anymore than acts and expressions of racist bigotry would be allowed to pass unchallenged.

6. Women members of our organizations face special problems, both material and psychological, stemming from their oppression in class society. They often face the same time-consuming domestic responsibilities as other women, especially if they have children. They are marked by the same lack of self-confidence, timidity, and fear of leadership that all women are educated from birth to consider as "natural." These obstacles to the recruitment, integration, and leadership development of women comrades must be discussed and consciously dealt with within the party.

As on all other questions, the leadership has the responsibility to take the lead:

Conscious attention must be given to the education, political development, and leadership training of women comrades. This should be a constant concem of all leadership bodies at all levels of the sections and the intemational. Consideration should be given to assuring that women are encouraged and, more importantly, helped to take on assignments that challenge them to develop their full capacities - teaching classes, writing articles, giving political reports, being public spokespersons and candidates for the organization, leading areas of work. Only by taking such deliberate and conscious measures can we maximize the development of our women cadre and assure that when they are elected to leadership bodies at all levels, this reflects a genuine expansion of a self-confident and strong political leadership cadre, not an artificial measure that can prove destructive to both individual comrades and the organization as a whole.

Within such a general framework of conscious leadership development, we strive to maximize the number of women in the central leadership bodies of our sections and sympathizing organizations and international.

This process will be facilitated by the fact that a growing number of comrades will be in the vanguard of women fighting their way into non-traditional jobs as part of the industrial working class. The self- confidence they gain from being part of the most powerful and organized sectors of the proletariat, the respect they earn from both male and female workers, and the experience they acquire as leaders of our class, are a crucial part of transforming the conscioussness of our organization and developing party leaders who are women.

For women comrades especially the difficulties created by the gross inadequacy of state-funded child-care facilities are often a barrier to their full participation in meetings and other activities. As our sections grow and become more working class in composition, we wil1 be recruiting more comrades who have children.

In our public activities and through our intervention in the mass movement, we strive to make broader social forces conscious of the need for organized child care. We try to win the labor movement to support and put high priority on the fight for socially organized and funded child-care services. We demand that mass workers organizations such as trade unions organize meeting times to facilitate the participation of women members, and utilize their resources to provide child-care facilities.

Internally our comrades must be constantly aware of the extra burdens and obstacles that stem from social and economic inequality generated by capitalism, especially for women and comrades of oppressed nationalities. We make allowances for this. In this perspective the leadership has the obligation to work with comrades who have family responsibilities to try to find collective so1utions that will enable them to minimize the obstacles to their political activity. For example, when a comrade with children is asked to take on a full-time assignment, the leadership has the responsibility to discuss and try to resolve the special needs, financial or otherwise.

At the same time, we recognize that there are limits to what the party can do. The party itself cannot assume the material obligation to eliminate the economic and social inequalities among comrades created by class society. We cannot assure the social services capitalism does not provide. The party does not have a generalized obligation to provide child care in order to equalize the personal situations of all comrades, nor can child-care duties be imposed on any comrade.

Such an approach would change the very purpose and character of the party as a political organization. What binds us together is our common determination to destroy the system that perpetuates inequality, our agreement on the program to accomplish that aim, and our loyalty to the party based on that program.

The process of educating our own members will take place along with, and be facilitated by, the growing involvement of our sections in the struggle for women’s liberation. The impact of this struggle on the consciousness and attitudes of all comrades has already been profound. The transformation of the women cadre of the international, reflecting our involvement in the struggle for women’s liberation, is a development of historic dimensions. The growing self-confidence, political maturity, and leadership capacities of the women comrades of the Fourth International constitute a significant expansion of the effective forces of revolutionary leadership on a world scale.

The new rise of women’s struggles internationally and the emergence of a strong women’s liberation movement prior to revolutionary struggles for power is a development of prime importance to the world party of socialist revolution. It increases the political power of the working class and the likelihood that the international revolution will be successful in carrying through to the end its task of socialist reconstruction. The rise of the women’s liberation movement is an additional guarantee against the bureaucratic degeneration of future revolutions.

The struggle to liberate women from the bondage in which class society has placed them is a struggle to free all human relationships from the shackles of economic compulsion and to propel humanity along the road to a higher social order.

November 1979