Convention Discussion: The Party & women’s liberation

BY: Fabian Sneevliet And Bernard Sampson| April 23, 2014

Submitted by Mishy, Allison Hubbard, Bernard Sampson, and Fabian Sneevliet

In order to become a mass party, the Communist Party needs to make an effort to recruit more women. In Houston, we have a large membership, of which only twenty percent is female. Often at our meetings, men do most of the talking and planning. We have had Socialist Reading Group meetings where a group of men discussed women’s liberation in the complete absence of women; this is not good at all. Most of our comrades do not feel comfortable with this, as it is very important to have gender diversity in a club. We are currently trying to change this, and one of our goals is to recruit more women to the club in Houston. We have created a special leaflet that tries to reach women and lays out the Party’s position on women’s liberation. At our Socialist Reading Group, we have tried to hold more meetings on women’s liberation and issues relating to women. We have made an effort to involve our female comrades and give them positions of leadership in the club. In the future, we want to have just as many women in the Houston Communist Party as men.

In my opinion, the Party needs to re-evaluate its position on women’s liberation, for it is incomplete. While it is certainly true that capitalism creates sexism and women’s oppression, most comrades have almost no understanding of how sexism and male-domination function at an everyday level. Many male comrades think that just because they believe in women’s liberation and sexual equality, they are somehow entirely innocent and no longer participate in male-dominating behaviors. For example, constantly interrupting people when they speak, using a hostile or aggressive tone, giving excessively long speeches, and authoritarian behaviors are all practices that have historically helped men to assert their domination over women. When male comrades at a Party meeting do not give female comrades a chance to speak or interrupt them, they make the Party an uncomfortable space for some women. An aggressive male comrade who uses a slightly hostile tone or even speaks really loud can create the very structure of male-domination that we should be fighting against. I often observe at club meetings that the male comrades speak often for five, even ten minutes, while the female comrades are quickly cut-off and do not have enough time to speak. It is very often the case that the contributions of women in the club are not taken seriously or just glossed over. Even though subjectively many male comrades may support women’s liberation, objectively they are hindering its development by displaying male-chauvinist behavior.

The Party’s positions on women came almost entirely from Lenin, who frankly did not have a very good position on women’s oppression or women’s liberation. To some modern readers, his comments on sexual women in his discussion with Clara Zetkin would sound almost conservative. Besides Alexandra Kollontai, the Marxist classics on women’s liberation are almost all male: Engels, Bebel, Kautsky, and Lenin. The Party should try to learn from feminism, for there is a lot of modern feminist theory that is instructive and not opposed to Marxism. Historically, the Party has been hostile to feminism, often denouncing it as ‘bourgeois’ or ‘identity politics’. While there are bourgeois types of feminism, such as ‘liberal feminism’, there are many other types of feminism that comrades could learn a lot from, such as Socialist Feminism, Marxist Feminism, or Post-structural Feminism. For example, Heidi Hartmann, who writes about the relationship of patriarchy and capitalism in her important essay ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism’, has a lot more to teach comrades about women under capitalism than Lenin does. Feminist writers such as Judith Butler, Frigga Haug, and Maria Mies have a lot to write about how male domination function at an everyday level. They look at how sexism is a lot more complicated than a subjective attitude, and is more often manifested in everyday practices that reproduce structures of oppression. In my opinion, a socialist revolution or getting more women involved in production is not enough to liberate women: there has to be a complete change in everyday practices, the relations between the sexes, and the way that we understand gender. There is nothing anti-Marxist about this, and most comrades could learn a lot from studying feminist theory. A lot of feminist theorists are incomplete, for they do not always work within a Marxist framework. However, if this scares comrades from reading them, then there is something seriously wrong, for one could easily work their theories into a Marxist framework. Comrades need to let go of their dogmatic adherence to Leninism and find ways to expand their Marxism to include other theorists than Marx, Engels, and Lenin. They need to study both Marxist and non-Marxist feminists, and work their ideas into a Marxist framework.

I therefore propose that the Party expand its position on women’s liberation by making a careful study of feminist theory. Doing this will make the Party more attractive to many women who are becoming activists for the first time. One reason why a large majority of the people who join online are males is because the Party does not immediately appear to be an organization that stands for women’s liberation. Women who become activists are much more likely to join a feminist organization such as the National Organization for Women (NOW) than the Communist Party. This is because NOW appears like a much more natural place to start feminist activism than the CPUSA. While we certainly should work with NOW, as it has played an important historical role in the women’s movement, we should try to present ourselves as a space where women can fight for the cause of women’s emancipation. If one looks on the CPUSA website, in the People’s World, or in Political Affairs, one does not immediately perceive it as an organization that stands for women’s liberation. In order to recruit more women, the Party should present itself as feminist in addition to being Marxist, and try to produce more literature about women’s liberation. If women see that the Communist Party supports reproductive rights, fights against male-chauvinism and sexism, and fights against the economic exploitation of women, then it will make more sense to a lot of women to join the CPUSA. It should produce new pamphlets on women’s liberation that incorporates aspects of Marxist and socialist feminism, which should be written by women in the Party.

Every Communist Party leadership body, from the club, to district, to national committee should make a concerted effort to create a gender (and racially) diverse leadership. When leadership committees are entirely made up of males, they only offer the male perspective, which is in fact incomplete. There must be diverse women on all leadership bodies, for only this can give a complete perspective on existing social relations. Comrades should make a concerted effort to fight against male domination and not ignore manifestations of sexist behavior, language, or attitudes. Just because we Communists believe in women’s liberation does not mean that all Communists are necessary innocent. If anti-feminist behavior is pointed out and dealt with in a comradely way, then many comrades can grow and the Party can become a more women-friendly organization.

Unless the Party recruits more women to the Party and makes the Party appear as a space for revolutionary feminist activism, it will not grow and never become a mass Party. The Party therefore needs to re-evaluate its position on women’s liberation and find ways to recruit more women to the Party.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014

Comments (2)

reviews | December 17, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Thanks for your article Fabian. You have good information in your writing and i like your idea to to have such great post. There are rare people who can write as good as you write about the The Party & women’s liberation.

Katelyn Driskill | May 13, 2014 at 4:11 PM

Thank you for writing this. As a young woman coming into political activism, it was a bewildering experience to be both ceaselessly encouraged to join in the discussion because “we need women leadership and voices”, and also talked over, with 2-3 men in the group dominating the conversation.

Thank you for writing this, comrade.

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