Letter from Sisters in the W.U.O-1976

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Dear PFOC sisters.

This is an internal paper tracing the development of the WUO’s right opportunist line on women through the last seven years. We thought the paper might be useful to you at this time. Please use it however seems useful to you.

We are engaged in tremendous struggle and self-criticism in our organization over our opportunist, white and male supremacist line and direction of the last two years. We-are sending this paper out of respect and acknowledgment of your revolutionary work and direction in struggling to overturn opportunism and develop a revolutionary line. We would like to do everything we can to support you in this. Your existence and work is of tremendous importance to the revolutionary forces in the oppressor nation left. Your leadership is of critical importance to us in our rectification.

In Struggle,
Sisters of WUO

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Outline History of our Opportunist Line on Women

This is a paper arguing that our right opportunist line on women must be overturned. Without doing so there can be no revolutionary line, strategy and practice. The development of our wrong line is clear in the line of Osawatomie and our practice of the last two years. Opportunist errors have different content during different historical periods. At this stage of imperialism and inside the oppressor nation, the essence of opportunism is the denial of the national and women’s questions, of white and male supremacy.

This paper is an attempt to define our current wrong line on women and to trace its history and development. The development of our right opportunist line on women is the result of a two-line struggle over the seven year period of our existence: the main contradiction has been between liquidation of the struggle against male supremacy, on the one hand, and the fight for revolutionary women’s politics on the other. In the aspect of the struggle for a revolutionary line, there has been a contradiction between revolutionary and bourgeois feminism.

The aspect of liquidation, which has been the primary aspect, has been characterized by: a) naming bourgeois feminism, not male supremacy,as the main enemy of women. This was a consequence of: b) denying the decisive importance of the special oppression of women to the maintenance of imperialism, thereby denying the revolutionary content of the struggle against male supremacy, the need for power for women. Along with this was the definition of all forms of women working with women separate from men as separatism and anti-communism.

In Spring ’69, SDS attacked the women’s movement for not being revolutionary, being racist and reformist. Bourgeois feminism and separatism were seen as the main enemy of the women’s movement. In “You Don’t Need a Weatherman etc” (6/69, Weatherman,Jacobs) we wrote:

“How do we organize women against racism and imperialism without submerging the principled revolutionary struggle of women’s liberation? We have no real answer, but we recognize the real reactionary danger of women’s groups that are not self-consciously revolutionary and anti-imperialist.” (emphasis added)

Liquidation of the women’s question is clearly the secondary concern. This error served to disarm the organization, especially the women,and laid the foundation for the development of the right opportunist line consolidated in the article “Women’s Question is a Class Question.” The essence of the attack on the women’s movement was to make no distinction between white women and the oppressor nation as a whole. We claimed that “any demand made by white people short of total annihilation of imperialism can be granted by the pigs—and will be.”

This formulation made out that the struggles of white women inside the oppressor nation against male supremacy were in opposition to and a threat to Black liberation, rather than potentially closest allies.

This attack undercut a relatively more progressive line which was being argued against PL. PL’s position was that the special oppression of women was their super-exploitation as members of the working class.

We argued that women also suffered a special oppression as women, namely sexism—the ideology of the inferiority of women—and that building women as fighters was a way to challenge this. Seven years later we put forward “Women’s Question is a Class Question.” The title says it. The politics consolidated in the editorial is in fact the right opportunist politics of PL in ’69.

Women are once again defined only as superexploited members of the working class, and as members of the reserve army of labor—their special oppression thus reduced to the workplace. This is not a Marxist-Leninist analysis. The material basis of women’s oppression, and its concrete expression in the institutions of society—the family, schools, courts, laws, religion and the state—are left out. Male supremacy is liquidated and sexism seen as unimportant.

In ’69 the line that stated the politics of the period was women as fighters. VIETNAMESE WOMEN CARRY GUNS. In “Honky Tonk Women” we say:

“Our liberation as individuals and as women is possible only when it is understood as a political process—part of the formation of an armed white fighting force. Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun, and the struggle to gain and use political power against the state is the struggle for our liberation.

This line completely bypassed a materialist analysis of the special oppression of women. There was political struggle about this, and Cathy Wilkerson wrote in New Left Notes, 8/69: “The inability of the Weatherman proposal to include an organic analysis of male supremacy stems from a weakness in the basis analysis.”

But this criticism was ignored. In this period, women were in self-conscious struggle over sexism throughout the organization. This took the form of smashing monogamous relationships, of women leading demonstrations and actions, and fighting to build women’s leadership in the collectives. This coincided with the struggle of women in the national organization for leadership and a base of power in the national structure. There was a call for a form of women’s organization within the Weather organization. This struggle was defeated by the line opposing the initiative as separatist and anti-communist.

This corrupt line was a cover for male supremacy. As a consequence, the initiative was co-opted through putting a second woman on the Weather Bureau. The demand had been for power for women, while the addition of another woman could have been a basis for forward movement, it was token because it did not reflect the victory of a revolutionary line. This was a major defeat for women in the organization. Individually and collectively women were weakened. This was the basis for the worsening of political line, and for a lowering of women’s consciousness .

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Townhouse 3/6/70

Male supremacy and wrong line on women played a role in the Townhouse. Sexism was intertwined with the military error. But women had been weakened, and were unable to name and struggle against male supremacy. In the attempt to overturn the military error, male supremacy continued unchallenged. Because of the depth of this setback for women, the main form in which the struggle against male supremacy took place for some time after the Townhouse was the struggle for women to be able to work together.

Proud Eagle (1 and 2)

The Proud Eagle actions reflected this struggle of women. To the extent that these actions represented the struggle of women to work together, they represented a struggle against male supremacy. These were the first women’s armed actions in the organization. A report on Proud Eagle #2 reveals a political line whose defining characteristics are that: the content of the struggle against the special oppression of women is the struggle for women to be fighters — doing the action is the way that those women were liberating themselves.

This practical activity stems from the line that male supremacy is a bad idea, experienced as oppressive sex roles which individual women can and should struggle to change. Coexisting with this line and in contradiction to it was the liquidation line that defined women working together as separatist. This took the form of men out front saying this; but also the indirect form of denying the validity of the action through other arguments.

In all this the political line and content of the action, target and communique were explicitly secondary. What the content of the action said to and about and for women was secondary to the process of doing the action. This was consistent with the line that separated women from anti -imperialism. The line of the actions maintained and upheld the liquidationist male supremacist position that the struggle of women against male supremacy has no revolutionary content.

The First Women’s Newsletter, Winter ’72

..also reflected and was a consequence of the struggle of women to work together. The newsletter includes articles about a variety of women’s experiences as well as poetry by women in the organization. However, none of these articles name or attempt to analyze male supremacy or the special oppression of women.

An internal paper, Mountain Moving Day, Feb. ’73, represented an initiative by women to “overcome the weaknesses” in our separation of women from anti-imperialism, (it was not understood to be a wrong line.) It was written after the ceasefire and argued that the change in the world situation made it possible to make a priority of correcting our weaknesses in our line on women, and was a call to develop analysis and program.

In the following year women met, did retreats together, jumped into the upusurge of women’s literature and music, and began to work on projects relating to women: work on HEW, health, welfare, rape and forced sterilization were undertaken. This work was weakened by not working simultaneously on developing theoretical understanding of women’s oppression.

At the same time there were aspects of this work that were mystical, anti-male, etc; these errors were used as proof that the solidarity that had been built among women was divisive and that the initiative represented once more a move towards separatism and bourgeois feminism. One man argued that the women’s movement had gone “too far”. Other men argued that only women and gay men in the organization had any hope of being revolutionary, and that it was correct for the women to be separatists—they therefore moved out to work and live with men!

The national question was once more pitted against the women’s question and sisters were gutchecked as to their commitment to Third World struggles. This was the coup de grace to the initiative.

Six Sisters was a study group of women who met to study the special oppression of women and to advance our theoretical understanding of the woman question (Summer ’73). From the work of this group emerged an analysis that HEW, i.e., the state, was the embodiment of male supremacy, and as such was the main enemy of women in our society.

This group was consciously used by the leadership to be an alternative to Mountain Moving Day—as such its purpose included destroying solidarity among women and protecting leadership from criticism. This hidden purpose undermined the real advances made by the women and ensured that the political advances of the Six Sisters study could not challenge the dominant line of the organization and overturn it. When the group finished its study, it was disbanded.

HEW Action 3/8/74

This action nevertheless marked the possibility of a breakthrough around our politics: the special oppression of women was described and identified, and the state was named as the main enemy of women. Women’s liberation was understood as a matter of survival.

Prairie Fire

The politics of Prairie Fire represented our most advanced understanding about women. The politics of the HEW action are developed in the book, both in the sections explicitly about women, and in the whole. There was a critical struggle waged by women in the writing of the book that women be understood in the entire analysis —not just in one section: so women are throughout, in the history, Vietnam, etc.

We understood and said that the oppression of women was crucial to imperialism, although we could not explain this in depth. Sexism was linked to imperialism. At the same time, the material basis of the oppression of women is missing. Thus the analysis is firmly anti-liquidationist, but not a materialist analysis. This was the best of our political line on women (July ’74). But these were the politics that got once more liquidated a very short time later at the first Cadre school.

Cadre School 1.

The school leadership argued that a revolutionary women’s movement and program had to be based in the workplace. That our strategy should be to acquire a lot more information(census tracts) as to where women worked, what kinds of jobs, etc. The development of a program and analysis of HEW was explicitly argued to be liberal and reformist. The line of women and the workplace was consistent with the overall line of the school leadership that the fundamental contradiction was between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. The extraction of superprofits and not wage labor and all the relations of production including the family and oppressor/oppressed nations, defined the base of society. This formulation laid the basis for liquidating the national question and the women’s question.

Linked to this reductionist view of the base, the superstructure was defined as ideology, only: the ideas which reinforced the base. The institutions of society were omitted from the superstructure. This meant omitting the analysis that the institutions of society arise from the base and exist for the purpose of maintaining the base. This eliminates the imperialist state from the analysis. Instead, the state and institutuions of society come to be not embodiments of the wage-labor system, formulations of this error are “institutionalized racism and sexism.” The wage labor system and the role of women in the family are the material basis of the special oppression of women,but if you leave out the state, you leave out how this oppression is organized, fought for and maintained. You leave out male (and white) supremacy.

This is how the woman and national questions got liquidated at Cadre School, and this is at the heart of what we have to overturn now. Cadre School 1 was a turning point in the organization. It was the place where the opportunist line that was sub rosa in the writing of the book, but checked up until its publication, emerged as the dominant line of the organization. Consistent with this line were commandist suppressive leadership and rank sexist practice. But the wrong line disarmed our ability to identify this. When women disagreed, they were crushed, and when they were subsequently silent, they were criticized for being subjective, lacking self-confidence, unwilling to lead and build organization, passive.

This has been a major manifestation of sexist practice during the last two years. Women who continued to oppose the line and direction of the organization were kicked out or isolated based on the same criticisms. When women returned from Cadre School, work on HEW, health,etc. mostly stopped, and an attempt was made to implement the politics of cadre school, to research where women work. “Working Women” came out of this a year later, an article which liquidated both the national and women’s questions. The implications of this line was to deny, this time with the cover of phoney ml, that the oppression of women is key to imperialism and that women must have a base of power in the struggle.

Thus women working with women was now explicitly viewed as at best an embarrassment, and at worst inherently dangerous and separatist. Thus the second women’s newsletter (3/75) contains a short argument for why we should not have all women’s collectives in the organization: this would reinforce bourgeois feminist tendencies among women. This was a specific attack on women in the organization with a more revolutionary line on women.

There is much more to look at, but the rest of the history is largely exposed in all the issues of OSAWATAMIE and in the film: from the second editorial where “Urgent Tasks of the Revolution” omitted the struggle against male supremacy, to “Our Class Stand” which leaves out the special oppression of women, to “Women’s Question is a Class Question” which liquidates it, to the last editorial which attempts to cover it over.

In struggling over how we developed this line, how we have, plainly speaking, betrayed women and concretely opposed the struggle against male supremacy, the primary reason to underscore is the material basis for male supremacy in the oppressor nation. Inside our organization, the male supremacist line was reflected in a male supremacist structure which aided the enforcement of the opportunist line on women and the national liberation struggle.

Women were both suppressed and promoted to leadership on the basis of the wrong line; women’s leadership was not defined by political line, but as “ability to take responsibility for the whole,” willingness to build organization,” “influence over and respect of cadre.” Women were thus dependent on higher bodies for their leadership and were passive and allied with leadership against criticism of the wrong line.

The fiercest fighting for the opportunist line on women was done by women, who were promoted and used for this purpose. As women we are responsible for the consequences of what we have developed and led. But we must look at the roots of male supremacy and its consequences for women as the basis for overturning our errors.

There is a material basis for passivity amongst white women in the oppressor nation. We think it meant inside our organization complicity and alliance with male supremacy and active enforcement of white supremacy. Passivity is a social expression of real dominance and powerlessness of women, rooted in the relations of production, especially the family: private servitude and economic dependence on men. It has to be overcome by attacking male supremacy.

The WUO has always promoted passivity as an individual character trait and problem of women. This coincides with the line “sexism is a bad idea that individual women should get over.” This formulation makes women out to be weak and confirms our worst fears of ourselves. We are in the middle of this struggle now: what is the relationship of the special oppression of women to imperialism?

We think it is a cornerstone, decisive, very very important. We think it is a revolutionary principle, a law of social development in this era that the main danger inside the revolutionary movement is opportunism, that its essence in the oppressor nation is the liquidation of the national and women’s question. There is a material basis for white and male supremacy against which we must wage continuous struggle. Agreement with this is the start and the basis for overturning opportunism and developing correct political line.

Letter from Sisters in the W.U.O to the Women of PFOC (September 1976) in The Split of the Weather Underground Organization: Struggling against White and Male Supremacy pp 36-40 -1977

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