A victory for socialist feminism — Organizers report on the 1969 FSP conference

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VII. 1969: A New Conjuncture and A New Growth

As the new year rolled in, the FSP was left with its name, its integrity, an excellent and popular headquarters, and a lot of experience.

But the party was detached from the white student movement and lacked a substantial periphery.

The Tide Turns

1. The New Left

The intense, highly personal student rebellion against the constrictions, brutality, and inequities of capitalist society grew into the “new” Left, and through all of its twists and turns, it reflects a basically middle-class character.

Its programmatic vagueness, organizational incoherence and lack of solidarity, wild leaps from one end of the political spectrum to the other, and ideological glorification of emotionalism and subjectivism all arise from the fundamental capriciousness of a movement with no solid attachment to any productive class.

Any “program” this movement espouses is a momentary choice resulting from a mood, rather than a stable and long-term commitment to the needs and interests of the working class. Continual search and experiment become the substitute for serious program, and the movement feels an instinctive hostility to settling down to serious theoretical discussion, to chart a rational course for itself, and to stick by its decisions.

This inherent instability is accentuated by the class struggle vacuum in the U.S. In the absence of a strong working-class or socialist movement off campus exerting a commanding influence upon students, few objective forces exist to lend programmatic substance and social weight to the college rebellion.

This lack of a solid social base to connect it with reality is the New Left’s gravest constitutional problem, and the one weakness that the movement truly agonizes over. Its “go-it-alone” hysteria is balanced by a desperate longing for an authoritative voice — for an infallible pope — to lay down the law from on high. Hence, the movement turns frantically from one saviour to another — the Peace and Freedom Party, the “Third World,” Chairman Mao, the Black Panthers, and lately resurrected in all his glory, Comrade Stalin and his terror tactics.

The New Left, which claims to have arisen out of the purest existential freedom, is in fact at the mercy of its own whims, dictated by whatever looks biggest or most attractive at any given moment.

But none of the twists, turns, and about-faces of student radicalism, from participatory democracy through Stalinism, has alleviated its crisis of program and leadership. On the contrary, this crisis now assumes graver proportions with every passing week as the movement splits and fragments in a dozen different directions.

2. The Black Movement

The protracted crisis of leadership continues. Locally, there are two main contenders for the loyalty and support of the ghetto masses.

On one side are the reactionary cultural nationalists, represented in Seattle by the Afro-American Journal gang. This group has a real neo-fascist character; behind a mask of super-militancy and super-Blackness, they employ terrorist tactics to intimidate opponents, especially radicals, and to try to line their own pockets. Their aim is not to overthrow the white capitalist power structure, but to reach an accommodation with it that allows them to rule and exploit the ghetto.

Terrorism and extortion do not make for instant popularity. But the steady appeal to the Black mystique finds some response, and given the virtual leadership vacuum, the Afro-American crew can win adherents, especially among the declassed and demoralized street youth.

An effective challenge to the fascistic elements can only come from the left, and the only substantial group on this end of the political spectrum is the Black Panther Party.

This organization is still experiencing a very contradictory development. The BPP has proclaimed itself as the revolutionary socialist vanguard party of the ghetto. In asserting the working-class character of the coming revolution, and their right as Black revolutionists to playa vanguard role in the total revolution, the Panthers exemplify our theory of revolutionary integration.

Another step in the right direction was their recent attempt to come to grips with the Woman Question; for the first time they took a public position against male chauvinism in the BPP and in the Black community.

Still, despite this willingness to pose and confront key issues of the American Revolution, their organization suffers increasingly from serious internal illnesses.

Lacking a base among Black workers, the BPP is essentially a party of youth. Its leaders come out of the student movement; its mass base is among high school students and young street Blacks. And while this type of composition displays great militancy and combativeness, it is also highly volatile and unstable. Lacking the necessary conservatism of a workers’ organization, the Panthers are given to mercurial shifts in line.

Much like the white student movement, the Panthers leap from one end of the spectrum to the other. Putschist and desperate nationalist moods, aggravated by continual police repression and white racism, continually erupt within the ranks, and the leadership responds to this recklessness with purges of the “undesirables.” Then, in a frantic search for allies, the party jumps from ultra-left adventurism into People’s Front alliances with white liberals, whom they try to control with threats and bluster.

This class-collaborationist People’s Front trend was already evident last year in the national Panther alliance with the Peace and Freedom Party. It has lately surfaced again in the form of a “United Front Against Fascism,” Stalinist-style, that rests on a close alliance with CP hacks.

This recent turn spells danger for the Panthers, and, because of their strategic position on the left, endangers the radical movement as a whole — especially the student movement, whose instability and irrationality are heightened and reinforced by the Panther example.

The Panthers are the only organized radical force of any consequence in the Seattle Central Area, but they by no means represent the total of its radical potential. There exists a considerable body of young, militant, male and female, Black workers and intellectuals who display a singular level of political sophistication and willingness to act. Repelled by the ravings and goon-squad terror of the cultural nationalists, and by the militarism and arbitrariness of the Panthers, they are left without leadership to represent them and give them a viable program.

Many of these militants are concentrated in the government anti-poverty agencies, as both staff members and trainees. And so great is the Black leadership-vacuum that many of these workers and professionals, ordinarily very suspicious of whites, cooperate and collaborate with white FSP members who have daily on-the-job contact with them.

The persistent work of our comrades in this milieu has not only provided the party with invaluable growth, experience and associations, but has helped to spur the formation of a militant left-wing within a vital stratum of the Black working class.

The most promising development has been the emergence of a union of anti-poverty workers (PAPS). This organization was initiated with the purpose of improving the salaries and working conditions of non-professional anti-poverty workers, giving leverage to curb the arbitrariness of agency rulings, and providing a nucleus for the organization of super-exploited, unorganized and unrepresented workers throughout the city.

PAPS is very young and far from completing its task of organizing anti-poverty workers. Yet it has already won significant concessions from the OEO bureaucrats, and has weathered its first red-baiting attack. Its prestige and impact are considerable.

Comrade Gloria, who is president of the local, has exercised decisive leadership in organizing and maintaining PAPS, and bringing it through a difficult formative period while maintaining a thoroughly principled political stance.

The work of our comrades Gloria and Clara in the poverty program resulted in the dramatic contingent of Central Area women who sparked the mass lobby for abortion reform organized in March. The abortion-reform bill was forced out of the Senate Rules Committee in the wake of the mass action led by Radical Women. Hundreds of poor and minority race women participated and learned valuable political lessons. The State Legislature, of course, was rocked to its foundations.

Currently, the most important contribution of the party in the anti-poverty arena has been the initiation of a mass-protest campaign against the terrorism and extortion tactics of the Afro-American super-nationalists. This campaign has assumed an independent momentum of its own, and is sweeping the Central Area.

It would not do to paint a one-sided, rosy picture of the possibilities for radical action, particularly white radical action, in the anti-poverty agencies. The situation remains contradictory, fraught with difficulties as well as opportunities. Nevertheless, the work of our comrades serves as a model for what can be accomplished by even one comrade in daily contact with Black, Indian, Asian, Chicano and poor white people who want to struggle.

Moreover, it should lay to rest the myth that it is impossible for whites to intervene in the Black community. What is needed to qualify for this work is commitment, integrity, modesty, the tactical sense to gauge opportunities, the caution and tact required in acting to meet them — and, above all, a correct theory and historical knowledge.

It is not accidental that the effective party activity in the ghetto is being carried out by revolutionary white women.

Because of their acute awareness of the nature of their own social oppression, they characteristically display a far greater sensitivity to and rapport with the needs and problems of Blacks than do white men, even revolutionists. In the eyes of Blacks of both sexes at this juncture, white women represent the oppressor far less than do white men, LeRoi Jones’ nationalist sexism notwithstanding.

3. The GI Movement

Similar to the student movement in the shifting and vacillating character of its social base, the status of GI is no more permanent than that of student. And since GI’s are continually subject to transfer at the command of the brass, their opportunities to establish permanent ties and stable nuclei around which to form a movement are distinctly limited. Still, army life is markedly different from life on a campus, and imparts a qualitatively different character to the soldiers’ movement.

GI’s resemble workers in some important respects: they are disciplined and collectively oppressed by the ruling class, often in a very brutal and crushing manner. Playing at radicalism and acting in an irresponsible and adventurist way is obviously not only impractical but extremely dangerous.

This affects the nature of the movement. The soldier-militant who wants to fight the system is typically more cautious than his student counterpart, and, once radicalized, tends to take political ideas very seriously, since they represent a much graver commitment.

For these reasons, the GI movement hasn’t suffered from the most typical sicknesses of the New Left. But it has problems of its own.

Fort Lewis, the largest military base in the Western U.S., has for the past year been the scene of considerable radical activity arising out of the attempts of local radicals to build a viable GI movement.

The most promising endeavor in this field was the GI-Civilian Alliance for Peace (GI-CAP), in which the SWP-YSA exercised predominant influence. This organization has suffered several vicissitudes. It reached its high point last February when several hundred GI’s participated in a mass march against the war in Vietnam. Since that time, it has gradually petered out, under the able guidance of the YSA, whose main policy orientation was to try to build a soldier-contingent of the mass, single-issue, anti-war movement. SWP still hopes to accomplish this in cooperation with the pacifists, liberals, and Stalinists. but locally the prospects are dim, because when GI-CAP became imprisoned within the SWP formula, it stagnated and lost its attraction for GI’s.

Nevertheless, the GI movement has been a fruitful arena of work for the FSP. Persistent educational propaganda within GI-CAP provided the party with a milieu for some months, out of which we gained an excellent recruit who is a leader of GI’s.

Despite the decline of GI-CAP, the ferment at the Fort continues, and our comrade has built a nucleus of GI’s interested in organizing a movement able to challenge the repressive apparatus of the officers. The potential for building a movement, and the party, in this area, remains very good.

4. The Trade-Unions

Unionism has not occupied us a great deal in recent years, for a very good reason: most of the action has been elsewhere. Nevertheless, an important sector of the local working class has come into motion recently, and, again, an FSPer has been in the middle of it.

For several months, the Service Employees Union has been carrying out an organizing drive among nursing-home employees in Seattle, who are predominantly women and Blacks; one of our women comrades is organizing it.

This kind of work proceeds slowly, and an organizer is continually hampered by the bureaucratic procedures imposed by the law and the conservatism of the labor bureaucracy. Nevertheless, our comrade has been able to exercise considerable latitude in her organizing strategy, and has quite successfully appealed to the workers as both super-exploited Blacks and women.

This nascent awakening of one of the most intensely exploited categories of workers is still tentative but is a portent of the future, forecasting a general upsurge of a new layer of the working class that is only now beginning to gather self-confidence.

A decisive success in this drive can catalyze activity among broader sections of the class and redound greatly to the benefit of our party.

5. The Women’s Movement

This is the one sector of the mass movement in which no evaluation of the present conjuncture can be made without referring to the FSP, for here our party’s influence has been decisive in shaping the period.

At the same time, it is difficult to separate party activity in this field from mass work in the Central Area and the union movement, for our work in these milieus, performed almost entirely by women comrades, has contributed to building the general women’s movement and has, in turn, benefited from this movement.

An independent women’s movement has emerged in the Seattle area, and its history in recent months provided swift and striking vindication of our insistence on the top-level political importance of the Woman Question and our perspective of building an independent, working-class, women’s organization with a basic socialist character.

Last winter, things didn’t look so good. After the breakaway of both the “Women’s Liberation” and “Majority Union” contingents from Radical Women, the parent organization was hardly more than an FSP women’s caucus. But the subsequent evolution of all three groups soon showed who had the correct line, the staying power, and the organizing knowhow — and who would grow.

The single-issue, anti-political stance of the Women’s Majority Union, and the infantile ultra-leftism of the Women’s Liberation Committee, soon revealed themselves as two sides of the coin of petty bourgeois frivolousness and political ignorance.

Isolated in a campus milieu, these organizations had in common a basic lack of gut-level understanding of the needs of working women, Black women, and working class housewives, and their theoretical grasp was utterly inadequate to orient them consistently toward these sectors which are the indispensable base of any serious, fighting, mass movement of women.

Unable to link up with any exploited and triply oppressed women, both the Union and the Committee turned inward to feed on themselves. The Majority Union seems to have slowly starved to death on such a diet, while the Women’s Liberation Committee has maintained a discussion-club and guerrilla-theatre role, unable to orient itself in any direction.

By contrast, Radical Women, beginning once again with only principles and a small nucleus of comrades, quickly revived and rebuilt itself. Working women and minority race women were attracted by precisely those features that repelled petty-bourgeois student types — clearly defined program and a taking-care-of-business structure appropriate to a serious organization.

Indeed, the first major gain for the party was made in the very course of the factional struggles that led to fragmentation into three factions. The single non-FSP, working-class-radical member of Radical

Women elected not only to stay with the organization but to join the FSP, soon proving to be one of the party’s most valuable activists.

The decisive turn came when Radical Women spurred the eruption of a tremendous agitation for abortion reform.

Thousands of women were mobilized in a mass rally at the capitol early this spring, and by virtue of its immediate and distinctive propaganda approach, and the energy and political solidity of its mass workers, Radical Women found itself transformed from an isolated cadre organization into the main pole of attraction for the radical wing of the women’s movement.

This transformation of Radical Women was made possible by the work of party activists in the anti-poverty agencies. Through energetic day-to-day contact work, they were able to recruit some of the best militant women workers into the abortion action and then into the ranks of Radical Women.

Radical Women was now strong enough to initiate an action solely on its own responsibility. When the Strike Committee chairman of the local photo finisher’s union appealed to some of our comrades in Radical Women for aid to their strike of beleaguered women, Radical Women decided to throw its energies into a demonstration to build support and win publicity for the strike.

Radical Women called for a mass picket line, persuaded others in the radical movement into supporting it, and on very short notice built an effective sympathy demonstration at the Perfect Photo plant.

The demonstration was an outstanding success in focusing attention on the strike, helping the Photo Finishers gain a victory settlement, and enhancing the prestige of Radical Women.

It also resulted in a mass arrest of picketers, including several Radical Women members. At the subsequent trials (on charges ranging from “obscenity” to “resisting arrest”), once again it was Radical Women who distinguished themselves in court by their forthright defense of their actions and their insistence on constitutional rights, while Women’s Liberation and New Left males showed themselves incapable of pursuing a unified and principled defense.

As a result of its intransigence in theory and practice, Radical Women now exercises ideological and organizational hegemony in the Seattle women’s movement. Not loved by its opponents but granted a grudging respect as the authentic bearer of principle, it points out the roads for women’s liberation, and the women’s movement, grudgingly or otherwise, follows in those directions.

Because it is objectively far in advance of the whole national women’s movement, Radical Women has a surprising number of contacts across the country and finds itself in a position to exercise national influence.

Needless to say, the success of Radical Women not only puts the FSP in immediate contact with a healthy and growing movement of young feminist radicals, but also reflects credit on the party as a shining vindication of our unique position on the Woman Question.

Perspectives

Our party has entered as a component, often a major one, into many mass movements since the beginning of 1969. Nevertheless. it is an independent entity. It develops in interaction with the entire movement, but has a separate character and distinctive objectives of its own.

A few months ago, we regarded survival as our major objective, and we have managed this rather well. In fact, this is one of the things we do best. In the past three years, we have witnessed a whole raft of radical organizations come into being, and we have outlived several and will outlast many more.

But we have not just survived. We have managed to grow. In contrast to the Menshevik splitters, who, despite all their tail-wagging and deep-entry tactics in frantic search of a home, are today more orphaned than ever. We have demonstrated a capacity to intervene in the mass movement, to build a movement, and to win respect. We have been able to do this precisely because we stuck by our principles, even, and especially when the going was rough.

The FSP has become the party of women’s emancipation in Seattle and the only such party in the U.S. This is as it should be. We have followed the logic of our political development; it was only natural that our party, the only consistent and persistent exponent of the Woman Question on the entire left, should attract the best elements of the rising women’s movement. And now that every other radical organization is jumping onto the bandwagon, we should be very conscious of the historic significance of our pioneering and the urgent necessity to continue defending and expanding our theory.

1. The Women’s Movement

This milieu, the most fertile area of mass work, should be the party’s primary mass orientation in the coming period.

Our responsibilities are both ideological and organizational, and demand a contribution from the entire party, including the men comrades. And particular attention must be given to maintaining a high quality of performance.

Party activity in this and all related areas (the ghetto and anti-poverty arena, trade-union organizing, etc.) must be organized and coordinated much more systematically. This could be handled through the establishment of a women’s fraction, under a responsible, experienced coordinator, so that activists in this area could consult on a regular basis and receive practical guidance and advice on policy and technical questions.

2. The Black Movement

Despite the good quality of our work in the Central Area, whites cannot solve the leadership-crisis of the Black movement. The problem, as before, is the necessity of a Black revolutionary socialist vanguard. With all their contradictions, the Panthers remain the only force in the ghetto striving in this direction, and if they go under, the movement will not improvise a new vanguard formation on short notice.

At a moment like this, with the Panthers beset not only by the police and a nascent fascist cadre inside the ghetto, but by the virus of Stalinism as well, they need ideological clarity and practical support more than ever.

The Black Student Union is more complex, both better and worse than the Panthers. It is more ideologically developed and theoretically oriented, but less homogeneous and disciplined.

As a broad organization (actually a loose federation of separate clubs on several local high school and college campuses), the BSU is more flexible, lacking the rigidity and paramilitary psychology of the Panthers. The leadership, who are radical intellectuals and longtime students, is generally on a higher political level than the Panthers and has the potential for much greater political maturity. It could evolve into a vanguard nucleus.

On the other hand, the BSU’s lack of program, loose structure and lack of internal discipline encourage opportunistic adaptations to external pressures from “respectable” society, and give free rein to the wild capriciousness of the young and politically inexperienced Blacks who have recently surged into the ranks.

Our responsibility to our own program and to the brave young radicals of the BPP and BSU is to find ways of assisting them with ideas and expertise. Any failure to do so amounts to an abdication of basic responsibility and must be remedied. Knowledgeable and capable comrades should be selected to work intensively with them.

This work is difficult, demanding not only ‘a good grasp of theory and tactics, but perseverance and an ability to roll with the punches. Further, comrades involved in this work must have thoroughly absorbed the significance of the strategic role of Blacks in the vanguard of the American revolution; since Black radicals recognize or sense this reality, disputes over theory and tactics are made easier when pursued within this theoretical context.

3. The GI Movement

Only one comrade is presently active in this field, and this should be sufficient, along with occasional intervention and assistance by others. However, the party should give this comrade all the political-ideological support he needs in bringing soldier contacts closer. A definite strategy should be worked out through discussions in the party, and regular consultations arranged between our mass-worker and the organizer.

4. The Student Movement

Our main responsibility in this arena is ideological. The party must make itself more available to individual contacts to discuss basic politics, avoiding embroilment in organizational campaigns and factional conflicts that serve no political purpose for us. We should be much better prepared for this, and much more cognizant of the necessity of orienting student work closely around the party, after our experiences with the new leftist Draft Resistance organization and the SDS women.

Our immediate aim with students should be recruitment and building of a fraction able to com bat the characteristic diseases of the New Left and the newly-acquired Stalinist goon-squadism prevalent in SDS. Some comrades will find themselves on familiar ground here, and only the FSP can effectively counter the baleful influences in the student movement of Third Period CP Ultra-leftism and SWP conservatism.

Organizational Tasks

Fulltime Organizer. If the FSP is to meet its political responsibilities, a way must be found to maintain a fulltime organizer, able to direct and coordinate all departments of party activity and utilize the talents of every comrade to the best advantage of our organization.

This will require considerable political and administrative skill, and the party should select the best possible comrade to fill this key post.

Finances. The need for an organizer immediately places on the agenda the question of financial solvency. Given the current cost of living, we can’t expect an organizer to be maintained on less than $100 a week. If we are to meet this expense, we will have to rack our brains to come up with new sources of money, and the membership will need to pay their fair share by increasing pledges and donations.

We cannot expect to reach this degree of solvency without a new dynamic and efficiency in the financial department, which has been administratively neglected for some time

Headquarter and Education. To effectively discharge our ideological responsibilities, we must utilize our headquarters much more extensively than heretofore. While political crises break all around us, we have not had a forum for months! We must institute more regular and frequent forums, classes and socials to aid us in political analysis, solving our financial problems, and bringing more people around the party.

Publishing. To facilitate expansion of our general educational work, it is recommended that the agitprop director post be revived, not only to organize forums and classes, but to supervise the writing, production and distribution of documents and propaganda leaflets.

Bookstore Emphasis. The work of the Literature Committee in the area of bookstore renovation and better publicizing of our literature must be expedited. Literature sales have picked up considerably, but could be enlarged even more with attractive displays and more attention paid to selling.

It is fitting, in closing, to underscore the dramatic fact that it was work among women that furnished us the key to the working class and the Black movement, just as our theory predicted.

We empirically followed the line that our principles indicated, and struck pay dirt. And in recognition of this fact, we must more consciously shape our strategy and perspectives in accordance with the proven correctness of our special ideology.

As the first revolutionary Trotskyist party to fuse Marxism and feminism on its bannerhead, we have stoutly defended our doctrine throughout the movement, against a vicious attack by male chauvinist-menshevik types inside the party, and in a public courtroom battle. We have thereby helped to define the new feminist era and have enriched the class struggle with a new dimension.

This confers upon us a mantle of grave responsibility, which our vast confidence in the socialist future of humankind will help us to wear proudly and well.


A Victory for Socialist Feminism

I. History and Backdrop

II. The Breakup of “Unity”

III. The Women Question Emerges

IV. Split

V. The Nature of the Split

VI. 1968: FSP Condition and Performance

VII. 1969: A New Conjecture and A New Growth

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