Radical Women plenum – A giant step forward for revolutionary feminism

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Radical Women, the voice of revolutionary socialist feminism in the United States, resoundingly extended the content, force and reach of its program at its Second National Executive Committee Plenum held in New York City in May at Columbia University.

Exciting additions to the organization’s basic document, the Radical Women Manifesto, expanded on the international character of women’s struggle, on the significance and vitality of feminism among women of color, and on the identity of RW as a decisive sector of the Left.

The plenum adopted a strong resolution on ecology and energy, written by Marcia Cutler, Portland, Oregon, and Sharman Haley, Juneau, Alaska. The NEC demanded closure of nuclear plants and called for a socialist development of technology in harmony with human and environmental needs. A resolution on the mounting threat of the right wing and feminist responses to it, written by Constance Scott, Seattle, was also endorsed.

A public debate on the question of the “natural superiority of women” was kicked off by the adoption of an introductory discussion article by Dr. Susan Williams, New York, which will be published and disseminated.

“Marxist feminists have an enormous contribution to make on women’s biologic, social, and political role in primitive as well as modern society,” states the article. “This is the theory which shapes our aspirations and strategies.”

Women in Iran

Most significant to the participants was the approval of a resolution on the Iranian revolution, written by Monica Hill, Los Angeles, which documented the centrality of women’s leadership in the world revolutionary struggle.

The plenum evaluated the Iranian revolution as a stunning vindication of revolutionary feminism — and of permanent revolution — and enthusiastically endorsed the demand of Iranian women for full economic, social and political freedom now.

The delegates condemned the majority of the Left for ignoring, down playing, distorting or slandering the vanguard stance of women in Iran, and attributed this grave underestimation to a sexist blindness so entrenched that it may well retard the revolutionary momentum in Iran and elsewhere.

Women of Color

The NEC applauded reports of the augmented recruitment of women of color to RW, and gave a stamp of approval to the right of representatives of specially-oppressed groups to form caucuses within RW. In response to a written proposal by Regina Jean-Joseph of N.Y., the Manifesto is being enlarged to include a section on the long-hidden history of women of color in the civil rights, labor, feminist and radical movements, where they have been a vital if unrecognized force.

Approving the written proposal of Karen Brodine from San Francisco, the new Manifesto will also describe the varieties of contemporary feminism so as to clearly distinguish RW from the conservatives of NOW, the antipolitical cultural-lifestylists, the social democratic feminists who support the capitalist Democratic party, the Matriarchists, the separatists, etc. And RW’s political opposition to the Stalinists and Maoists will also be spelled out.

The delegates felt that such a precise differentiation of key tendencies in feminism and radical politics would aid in the recruitment of women of color, and of all women.

Said one Black delegate, “The question has never been ‘When are minority women going to become feminists?’ It’s when are white feminists going to confront their racism?”

At a public forum presented by New York RW during the plenum, Constance Scott, National RW Organizer, hailed the contributions of women of color to the struggle. As an integral part of their own communities and civil rights organizations, she said, “they do not sever their femaleness from their subjugation as people of color and workers.”

Instead, they lead the way in showing the “real life connections between all the strands of oppression used to divide us from each other.”

The Manifesto will reemphasize RW’s support of cultural pluralism, but will simultaneously explain how negative aspects of a culture, such as the church and the institutionalized nuclear family, sorely oppress women of color.

The Stalinist line on the “revolutionary fighting family,” a shabby variation of women’s subordination, will also be addressed.

FSP Affiliation

The influence of Trotskyism and the theory of permanent revolution, which have shaped the program and style of RW, will be more explicitly spelled out in the revised Manifesto.

And the historical development of the relationship between RW and the Freedom Socialist Party, which culminated in RW’s affiliation with the FSP in 1974, will be described in detail in the new edition of the Manifesto, for the record and for the benefit of new readers.

Past and Future Linked

The plenum was treated to an inspiring speech by RW co-founder Melba Windoffer, who recounted, with humor and profundity, RW’s rich history of programmatic self-delineation, accomplishments in action, and the problems, the pain and the glory of building the organization. The strong sense she imparted of RW’s role in the movement for human rights was influential in shaping some key decisions of the meeting.

New York RW, which hosted the plenum, generously furnished housing, superb meals, and even some sight-seeing and theatre-going for the out-of-towners.

After 3 days and evenings of intensive and wide-ranging political analysis — and a welcome interlude featuring feminist poets and musicians — the NEC members from New York; Juneau, Alaska; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Portland; and Seattle left for home after a tremendous political experience. Their horizons were expanded, future tasks were well-outlined, and a new RW Organizer’s Handbook was in their grasp. Their message to serious feminists was clear: “Create a militant and radical leadership, or the right wing will take over and ravage the future that is really ours to build.”

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