Originally published in the “Committee for a Revolutionary Socialist Party (CRSP) Pre-Conference Discussion Bulletin,” by Radical Women co-founder Gloria Martin, October 1, 1978
AT 62, I CAN LOOK BACK at many years of discrimination and frequent bitter defeat because I am a woman and a worker.
I’ve been a domestic, office worker, and laundry operative. I have held many other types of jobs. I have always been, and remain, a worker.
When I was a young woman, I joined the Young Communist League (an affiliate of the Stalinist U.S. Communist Party) and for the first time began to realize why I was a second-class citizen.
However, the Communist Party (CP) warned, “Enough said. You will get your freedom after the revolution. The woman question, you know, is a secondary question.” Leaders of the party told me that the electrical workers, the steel workers and the auto workers were “in our pocket,” and would shortly be organized, and when that happened, “the workers” would lead the revolution and we women would be liberated too.
For years I went to plant gates at 6:00 a.m. to hand out leaflets to true-blue male workers, waiting and hoping for the great day when all those workers would become a great liberating army. I was privileged to serve them while they prepared to set me free.
Meanwhile, the male leaders of the CP were leading the membership down more than one primrose path: conciliation with imperialism..
Almost on the eve of a Communist Party peace rally in Chicago, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. I awoke one morning to find my male comrades marching off to war to save the USSR and democracy. This abrupt switch by the party was the beginning of my trek down the weary road of disenchantment with the CP…
Although I railed about the abandonment of the revolution and my liberation, nobody heard or cared. The CP was helping U.S. business win the imperialist Second World War.
I bore children, worked, and went on living my life. I was angry at the Left for its betrayal of women.
And then the civil rights movement, sparked by Black seamstress Rosa Parks in 1955, exploded. Opposition to the Vietnam War brought thousands into the streets and young women, tired of their helpmate position in the movement, began to notice that things were no different in the New Left than they were in the Old.
Some of us older women radicals heard the clarion call and we got together. We organized a class on Women’s Emancipation at Seattle’s Free University, and dozens of younger women attended. It was pure joy to hear women describing and evaluating their lives; most of us had never really known we had a history. We had never said all those things to each other, never talked over the “problem without a name” that Betty Friedan wrote about in her ground-breaking book, The Feminine Mystique.
Our dialogue with each other burst out in a great liberating chorus. Here at last we were looking at ourselves and each other not “through a glass darkly” but through a freshly washed, sparkling clean window. We read and talked incessantly, and those Free U classes changed our lives.
Wasn’t it George Bernard Shaw who said, “Women are the only slaves who willingly sleep with their masters”?
Didn’t Lenin repeatedly tell Clara Zetkin, “Organize the women workers”?
Didn’t he also write that the most oppressed would lead the revolution, which translated into modern times meant women of color and women everywhere?
Wasn’t it Trotsky who wrote, “Turn to the women workers”?
Didn’t Mary Wollstonecraft long ago demand a decent education for women? Her Vindication of the Rights of Women had a ringing sound that inspired us to the core of our being.
We would fight and lead and struggle. Rising up, we would push everyone up with us as we went…The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, Students for a Democratic Society, and women from communes formed women’s caucuses to fight the male chauvinist leaders of the New Left.
The red tide of socialist feminism started then, in the ’60s. Radical Women was formed at the conclusion of the Free University classes in 1968. Revolutionary feminism is now rolling over the earth into every remote corner of this tired old globe. Women everywhere are raising the banner of socialist feminism, Marxist feminism, revolutionary feminism. No one can stop the force of this absolute historic necessity. No arrogant, contemptuous, trumped-up anti-theories can change this reality.
Socialist feminism — right on! I believe in the revolutionary potential and talent of working women, militant women of color, lesbian radicals, discriminated-against women professionals, angry young women, rebellious housewives, harassed welfare mothers, and wise elderly women. And if this be “female patriotism” — so be it and make the most of it!
Male comrades, a warm welcome to the club, but if you don’t join us, we aren’t waiting anymore. We have no more tears to shed over socialist sexists, and any socialist who cannot see the current revolutionary dynamic of women is objectively a sexist. At 62, I want socialist revolution — yesterday! And I’m prepared, this time around, to win it myself, for everybody else, and not vice-versa. Together with my millions of sisters who are also prepared to fight now, I will stand back and step aside for nobody.
So I’m accused of dividing the working class?
I have news for my accusers. That division happened long before even I came on the scene! And capitalism created it, not my poor enslaved sex that to this day gets blamed for everything from original sin to robbing men of their manhood! And we uppity women who will no longer take this chauvinist shit from workers and radicals are showing both how to seal the fissure, not deepen it.
Beware! Anyone who tries to divide women radicals and lure some over to the side of sexist proletarians is sabotaging the revolution! Any departure by more comfortable workers and radicals from real, living, fraternal collaboration with women as a sex, directed towards supporting women in their rise to full revolutionary leadership and participation, must and will be punished as strikebreaking and treason.
Trotsky said that, and I agree.
Once there was an equalitarian, socialist matriarchy. Even now it exists in isolated communities, and vestiges of it in all cultures surround us. Don’t tell me that Morgan, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Plekhanov, Trotsky, Bebel, Mehring, Luxemburg, Zetkin and dozens of other are wrong on the subject.
Don’t tell me that all of us who see the socialist matriarchy as the magnificent beginning of human affairs are crazy, or fascists, as some of our detractors say! If we are, where is the Marxist-method counter-documentation? Or where is there even a counter-argument? I was taught that sticks and stones and snide remarks and jeers and sneers did not add up to a position, and I am absolutely convinced of this since hearing our outraged critics of socialist feminism who claim we’ve gone “too far” and even “overboard.” How can we go too far on the road to a workers state? Just what is the name of the ship that we’ve jumped?
It is becoming clear to women all over the world that feminism is not enough, but combined with the compatible framework of socialism, it can go far beyond achieving of reforms. World feminists know, contrary to the opinion of most of the Left, that women will lead the revolution. With the world in turmoil, and women in the front ranks of struggle everywhere, it’s clear to millions of us women that we have found the key to furthering the revolution: we have found our proper place in the revolution. A place of great importance!
I have no more fears and doubts. The slaves of the ages are in revolt. People of color, oppressed nations, women, gays all over the world are embroiled in class war and wars of liberation to throw off the yoke of imperialism, to wage revolution even in Western Europe — in Portugal! Women workers, the largest and most oppressed majority in the world, are decisive to the era of socialist liberty, justice and equality, a new civilization that we can only begin to imagine.
Socialist revolution, the sooner the better! Let us all, male and female, people of color and whites, gay and straight, old and young, all who suffer and struggle, strive together to hasten the day.
That’s where I stand.