Toward A Revolutionary Women’s Militia-1969

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Cathy Wilkerson

New Left Notes

July 8, 1969

The inability of the Weatherman proposal to include an organic analysis of male supremacy stems from weaknesses in the basic analysis. Nowhere does the paper confront head on how we specifically determine who in the mother country (although it deals with the colonies) are our friends and enemies, or how we might affect which side they come down on. The section on class analysis says there is an upper and lower strata of the working class and a middle strata, none of whom own or control any of the means of production, and who are differentiated on the basis of differing amounts of “privileges (i.e., benefits)” which they acquire partly as a result of the imperialist pillage of the colonies’ labor and natural resources. This gives us some beginning way of judging the material basis for the existence of “racism and loyalty to the system.” But it certainly does not help us solve the immediate task of determining the cutting-edge element of consciousness which will determine which loyalty in fact will develop and prevail in sectors of working-class youth, and how we can specifically affect that development.

Young people can be most easily won to a revolutionary perspective precisely because they are most affected by the progressive aspects of contradictions. We can say to working-class youth who have few material benefits that the privilege of access to protection by the ruling class that is held out to them is a shuck because that same ruling class will nonetheless increasingly exploit and oppress them. We can point to the schools, courts, pigs, jobs to concretize that. We can build struggles which focus on these forms of oppression and exploitation, and the specific aspects of these forms of oppression which try to win allegiance to the oppressor.

A close look at the condition of women will help clarify these things because women are affected by these contradictions, not in a different way from or additional way than men, but in a sharper, more extreme, way than men.

Where the noose is getting tighter it is especially tight around the necks of women. Most women identify primarily with the home and the family. In their roles as provider, wife, and mother they are pushed by even more forces than men to ally with the oppressors. They feel more immediately the need to maintain stability so as to keep stomachs full, children clothed; they feel the threat to the stability of their position even more acutely. Secondly, having been taught to feel passive and defenseless, especially in physical ways, they are more threatened by the spectre of black struggles as defined by the mass media, the ruling class through the PTA, women’s magazines, etc.

On the other hand, it is women’s jobs that are disappearing fastest. Textile mills, for instance, were originally concentrated in New England, exploiting the labor of immigrant European women. Then, as working people in New England gained minimum protection from slavish working conditions, the mills moved to the South, where women were in plentiful supply as unorganized, unprotected cheap labor. Now these mills are being moved to colonies to use the labor of colonized women. The move of small parts assembly plants to Third World nations is another example. As unemployment, job instability, and working conditions worsen, they deteriorate fastest for women.

Also, women’s family roles as wives and mothers force them to rely much more than men on social services, such as schools, hospitals, transportation, welfare, etc. As these public services are less and less able to meet the material needs of the people, women are most affected. They are the most conscious of the real increase in their oppression. As the family is defined more and more on bourgeois values, and serves more and more a pig function in relation to kids, young girls are the hardest hit.

In these ways, the forces which push working-class people toward allegiance with the ruling class are less strong on young women than on men, and yet those forces which point out the necessity of allying with Third World struggles are clearer and more compelling.

It must therefore be clear that “women’s issues” cannot be considered or dealt with separately from an understanding and strategy of the way the major contradictions affect the whole proletariat of the mother country. Attacks on male supremacy must be a major focus of all our work. When we talk to young working people in the shops, in the schools, or on the streets, it is one of the first notions we raise, and we begin very quickly to stress the importance of changing the practice of male supremacy into more communist forms of relationships. Because male supremacy is one of the major ways, along with racism, that the ruling class wins allegiance, we must break down the practice in order to destroy the material basis for that allegiance.

Further, male supremacy as an ideology is one of the most important ways that the Man defines individuals and societies in such a way that it makes it difficult to understand how socialism and communism could work, let alone how the forces of people struggling to win these ends could ever be successful. It demoralizes the people, and is a critical force in promoting bourgeois individualism through false separation of men from women, preventing collective practice. All of this discourages the people from allying with the struggles of the international proletariat and encourages them to be cynical and thus to ally with the ruling class to try to maintain as much stability and access as possible.

Within the Movement it is crucial that men and women both begin to fight against the vestiges of bourgeois ideology within themselves, to break down existing forms of social relationships. Only by developing forms in which we can express love in non-exploitative and non-competitive ways will men and women develop their full human and revolutionary potential for struggle.

Men who claim to be fighting imperialism in any form must fight against their own supremacist practices and notions. Not to do so undercuts their own legitimacy as revolutionaries. We have just expelled PL and WSA from our organization because we could not tolerate within our organization people who in practice worked against that struggle to which we are trying to win people. In regional and local struggles we must begin to take the same attitude toward those who comply with male supremacy.

Program

This basic analysis of the function and manifestations of male supremacy leads us in certain strategic directions. First, we must concentrate much more heavily on winning more women to the fight against imperialism. Second, we must initiate an attack on male supremacy as an essential part of our attack on those forces which push mother country working people to ally with the ruling class.

We have failed badly in the first task in the last year because of our mistaken notion that there were somehow analogous or equivalent “issues” around which to organize women to those laid out in the entirely male-oriented RYM paper. We now understand that we cannot organize separately around “women’s issues”—unless it is a tactic (e.g., equal wages for black and brown women) within a larger strategy for liberation. Men, and especially women, must focus the work on winning women to all of our struggles. By explaining the material basis of male supremacy and the way the ideology is used to promote allegiance to the ruling class, women will be able to understand more clearly the nature and cause of their oppression, and will be won to fighting. We must go into training schools for women, e.g. nursing, beauty, and secretarial. In the schools we must focus on the especially high rate of dropouts among women. We can expose the way young women are tracked into the most oppressive jobs, trained to function as a reserve labor force, prepared for exploitative family roles. We will attack the ideology of consumerism as the false front of the unreal myth of upward mobility.

As we win more and more women into the fight against imperialism through an understanding of their real position in society, we must form women’s caucuses within each struggle. We must see these caucuses as fighting groups to push the theoretical understanding of male supremacy. They can also devise ways for ensuring individual and collective improvements in practice among the progressive forces.

Clearly these two fronts of struggle must be waged simultaneously. In high schools, for instance, we must organize girls to fight along with men against the tracking system in general, as well as the way it affects girls in particular. Girls will also struggle against pigs and against the war. At the same time we can form women’s militias of high school girls which directly attack male supremacy and the broader set of bourgeois values upon which it rests. We have seen that one of the greatest oppressions of young working-class women is the restriction and surveillance of parents. “The family” is constantly trying to define their identity as submissive, mateable, and skilled in family tasks. Most girls have repressive restrictions on how late they can stay out and must report where they are at all times. Further, if the parents disapprove of the guy they are going out with they will impose even more restrictions and harass the girl continually at home. Militias can band girls together to fight collectively for collective freedom; they can, for example, confront the parents of each girl from the basis of power. These militias can also serve an educational and agitational role in the community as a whole. These girls could easily relate to friends who were working in plants or service industries and bring these young women into the struggle against imperialism.

Thus, women are not in particular demanding equality with men under the current conditions, but are demanding a whole new set of values—socialist values—by which people relate to each other in all forms of individual and collective relationships. It is true that while we fight these battles for socialist practices, we can’t be clear as to the exact content of the demand. These struggles must be seen as the beginning of a long, protracted struggle for socialism, and we will only gradually be able to perceive the positive content of the demands.

But, it is also clear that there are real dangers and problems with struggles which focus only on the principle of equality within the mother country. White women workers who voted for Wallace could easily wage a national chauvinist struggle for equal wages with men, without understanding the relationship between their oppression and the oppression of Third World people, and therefore without understanding the relationship between their struggle and the struggles for national self-determination. Further, unless women are brought into a movement that is, in practice, fighting male supremacy, they will be prevented, by their oppressive obligations, from playing a large or important role in struggles.

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