Claudia Jones: “International Women’s Day and the struggle for peace”

Mar 29, 2023

Claudia Jones speaks at a Communist Party event in the 1940s, with Elizabeth Gurley Flynn seated behind her. Photo appears courtesy of People's World.


Editor’s note: The full text of Claudia Jones’ famous 1950 speech, “International Women’s Day and the Struggle for Peace,” delivered at a rally and published in the March 1950 issue of Political Affairs, the monthly magazine of the Communist Party, USA. The article—later reprinted under the title “Women in the Struggle for Peace and Security”—appears here courtesy of People’s World.

Introduction

In an article published this year for International Women’s Day, Maddie Dery summarizes the various experiences of the women’s liberation movement since the early 20th century: “The history of International Women’s Day teaches us that when we fight, we win” [1]. This spirit, which threads through the historic struggle for women’s liberation and socialism, is easily identified in the revolutionary origins, legacies, and futures of International Women’s Day. At Liberation School, we want to end March—which, since 1987, the U.S. recognizes as “Women’s History Month”—and pull that red thread by publishing Claudia Jones’ historic 1950 speech at an International Women’s Day rally, which was also published in Political Affairs, the monthly journal of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). Jones’ speech rooted the contemporary moment of the class struggle in the long history of the fight for Black liberation, women’s emancipation, peace, and socialism, linking together fighters from Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth to Mother Jones and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, from Lucy Stone and Ida B Wells to Williana Burroughs and Clara Zetkin.

Born in Trinidad in 1915, Claudia Jones moved to New York City eight years later [2]. She is one of the most significant revolutionary theorists and organizers of the 20th century. After joining the Communist Party in 1936 through the struggle to free the Scottsboro Boys, she rapidly developed as an organizer and intellectual and within two years was the associate editor of the CPUSA’s Weekly Review and after another two years was the lead editor.

Pushing the Party to prioritize struggles against male and national chauvinism, in the late 1940s Jones theorized the “super-exploitation” of Black working-class women through their structural location in U.S. society. In one 1949 article, she wrote that “the Negro woman, who combines in her status the worker, the Negro, and the woman, is the vital link to… heightened political consciousness” [3]. For Jones, the heightened oppression of Black women workers and their historic roles as leaders and organizers of their communities made Black women’s participation and leadership essential to the communist and progressive struggle.

At the time of her IWD speech, she was solidly recognized as a leading Party and movement intellectual. In addition to her organizing and editorial work, she was elected to the CPUSA’s National Committee in 1945. In that speech, she insists on building broad and international unity against U.S. imperialist wars, unity that the Party could only forge by fighting against national, racial, and gender chauvinism. She centers the need for international and broad unity against U.S. imperialist wars. IWD isn’t only a day to advance the struggle for women, but for all oppressed people. In the U.S., she states, “a fundamental condition for rallying the masses of American women into the peace camp is to free them from the influence of the agents of imperialism and to arouse their sense of internationalism with millions upon millions of their sisters the world over” [4]. The heroic struggles of women throughout the socialist and anti-colonial states in Europe, Asia, and Africa, she held, resulted in “significant anti-imperialist advances” because they were the product of united fronts. As a result, these struggles “should serve to inspire the growing struggles of American women and heighten their consciousness of the need for militant united-front campaigns around the burning demands of the day, against monopoly oppression, against war and fascism” [5].

In the speech below, and in her writing and organizing, she critically assessed her Party’s attention to national chauvinism and sexism by recommending concrete actions. Jones called on “progressive and communist men” to “become vanguard fighters against male supremacist ideas and for equal rights for women” [6]. In the concluding section of the speech, Jones declares “tremendous tasks fall upon our Party,” from deploying Black women leaders to engage mass women’s organizing, promoting Black women “in all spheres of Party work and mass activity,” engaging in education and study about women’s labor—including domestic labor—and insisting that all Party outlets deal explicitly with these matters, for these are the only ways to combat “bourgeois feminism” [7].

As a Black communist and immigrant woman living in the U.S. without citizenship rights during the height of the anti-communist Cold War hysteria, Jones was uniquely vulnerable to state repression. Along with other leading members of the CPUSA, she was subject to heavy surveillance. In January 1948, she was arrested for violating the McCarran Act and was later convicted for violating the 1918 Immigration Act. Held at Ellis Island awaiting deportation, the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born raised her $1,000 bail. Although she was still facing deportation proceedings, Jones didn’t back down after her release. She dove right back into organizing, published several key articles on super-exploitatoin, among other work. Even though her deportation proceedings started in the middle of February 1950, less than a month later Jones delivered the speech reproduced below.

In late June 1951, the state arrested Jones and over a dozen other Party leaders (including her friend Flynn) under the anti-communist Smith Act. The arrest occured almost immediately after the Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the Smith Act in Eugene Dennis v. United States. At the March 1953 conclusion of the trial she was sentenced to a year and a day in prison. She started serving her sentence in 1955, after the Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal, despite a significant campaign waged outside prison walls by her comrades and friends.

As Carole Boyce Davies’ evaluation of Jones’ FBI file demonstrates, it was “the cumulative body of her writings that provided the documentary evidence the state used to argue for her deportation,” the penalty for her crime of “practicing the ideas of communism” [8]. Nonetheless, one of these documents that prompted the arrest was her speech below. In her pre-sentencing remarks before Judge Edward Dimock convicted Jones, she condemned the sham trial and showed the cowardice of the state. “Introduce a title page to show Claudia once wrote an article during the indictment period,” she said, “but you dare not read even a line of it, even to a biased jury…. You dare not, gentlemen of the prosecution, assert that Negro women can think and speak and write [9]!” She continued with reference to her IWD article:

“The prosecution also cancelled out the overt act which accompanied the original indictment of the defendant Jones entitled ‘Women in the Struggle for Peace and Security.’ And why, your Honor? It cannot be read, your Honor—it urges American mothers, Negro women and white, to write, to emulate the peace struggles of their anti-fascist sisters in Latin America, in the new European democracies, in the Soviet Union, in Asia and Africa to end the bestial Korean war” [10].

In an interview after she arrived in Britain, she articulated several reasons she was a threat to the U.S. state:

“I was deported from the USA because as a Negro woman Communist of West Indian descent, I was a thorn in their side in my opposition to Jim Crow racist discrimination against 16 million Negro Americans… my work for redress of these grievances, for unity of Negro and white workers, for women’s rights… because I fought for peace… because I urged the prosecution of lynchers rather than prosecution of Communists and other democratic Americans who oppose the lynchers and big financiers and warmongers, the real advocates of force and violence in the USA” [11].

During the height of Cold War anti-communist witch hunts, Charisse Burden-Stelly writes, “the West Indian’s embodied foreignness and internationalism, and the U.S. Black radical’s ‘foreign’ and internationalist ideas, constituted a particular threat that was incompatible with loyalty to the United States.” As such, they “were particularly targeted because a multitude of Blacks in the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), starting in the 1920s, were West Indian workers that analyzed the struggle of the U.S. Black working class as part of the larger fight of the international racialized proletariat against capitalist imperialism and coloniality” [12].

The ruling class always tries to defang the radical foundations of events such as International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, deploying them in the exact opposite direction of their real origins and legacy. This year, for example, U.S. President Joe Biden even had the nerve to use International Women’s Day to launch a broad propaganda campaign to support U.S. imperialist wars and plots against Iran, Russia, Afghanistan, and Ukraine [11]. The real spirit of International Women’s Day is what Jones’ relays in her speech. It is one that is resolutely opposed to imperialism and capitalism, sexism, racism, and national chauvinism, affirms that those systems of exploitation and oppression can only be eliminated through the struggle for socialism, a struggle that requires uniting the broadest masses of working and oppressed people. This is the spirit in which we continue our struggle for the liberation of Black working women and all exploited and oppressed people this year.

 

 

Source: Breaking the Chains Magazine.

Claudia Jones: “International Women’s Day and the struggle for peace”

On International Women’s Day this year, millions of women in the world-wide camp of peace headed by the mighty land of Socialism will muster their united forces to make March 8, 1950, a day of demonstrative struggle for peace, freedom and women’s rights.

In our own land, there will be over fifty celebrations. On New York’s Lower East Side, original site of this historic American-born day of struggle for equal rights for women, and in major industrial states, such as Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, broad united-front meetings of women for peace will be head. “Save the Peace!” “Halt Production of the A-Bomb!” “Negotiate with the Soviet Union to Outlaw Atomic Weapons!”—these are the slogans of women in the U.S.A. on International Women’s Day.

The struggle for peace

The special significance of this holiday this year, its particular meaning for labor, progressives, and Communists, and for American working women generally, is to be found in the widespread condemnation, among numerous sections of the American people, of Truman’s cold-blooded order to produce the hydrogen bomb and to inaugurate a suicidal atomic and hydrogen weapon race.

Not to the liking of the imperialist ideologists of the “American Century” is the growing indication by millions of American women of their opposition to war, their ardent desire for peace, their rejection of the Truman-bipartisan war policy.

As in the Protestant women’s groups, many women’s organizations are opposed to the North Atlantic war pact, which spells misery for the masses of American women and their families. This development coincides with the policy stand of progressive women’s organizations that have been outspoken in demands for peaceful negotiations of differences with the Soviet Union, for the outlawing of atomic weapons, for ending the cold war.

Typical of the shocked reaction to Truman’s order for H-bomb production was the statement of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom demanding that Secretary of State Dean Acheson “make clear by action as well as by words that the United States desires negotiations and agreement” with the Soviet Union. This is necessary, the statement added, to avoid “bringing down upon this nation the condemnation of the world.” This organization also expressed its opposition to Acheson’s suggestion for the resumption of diplomatic relations between U.N. members and Franco-Spain, as well as to the proposed extension of the peace-time draft law.

These and other expressions of opposition to the Administration’s H-bomb policy by notable women’s organizations and leaders merge with the significant grass-roots united-front peace activities developing in many communities. For example, in Boston, as result of a “Save the Peace—Outlaw the A-Bomb” peace ballot circulated last November, a permanent broad united-front women’s organization, “Minute Women for Peace,” has been established. In that city, within ten days, over 6,000 women from church, trade-union, fraternal, Negro, civic and middle-class-led women’s organizations signed peace ballots urging outlawing of the A-Bomb. In Philadelphia, a Women’s Committee For Peace has addressed to President Truman a ballot to “Outlaw the H-Bomb—Vote for Peace.” Similar developments have taken place in Pasadena and Chicago. The wide response of women of all political opinions to these ballots is but an index of the readiness of American women to challenge the monstrous Truman-Acheson doctrine that war is inevitable. Emulation of these developments in other cities, particularly among working-class and Negro women, is certainly on the order of the day.

Indicative of the determination of women, not only to register their peace sentiments, but to fight for peace, is the coalescing on a community basis, following such ballotings, of women’s peace committees. The orientation of these committees is to convene women’s peace conferences, in alliance with the general peace movement now developing.

The widespread peace sentiments, particularly of the women and the youth in their millions, must be organized and given direction and effective, militant expression. This is necessary, since the monopolist rulers are doing everything possible to deceive the people to paralyze their will to fight for peace. Particularly insidious agents of the war-makers are the Social-Democratic and reformist labor leaders, the reactionary Roman Catholic hierarchy, and the American agents of the fascist Tito gang of imperialist spies, whose main task is to confuse, split and undermine the peace camp.

Hence, a fundamental condition for rallying the masses of American women into the peace camp is to free them from the influence of the agents of imperialism and to arouse their sense of internationalism with millions upon millions of their sisters the world over; to protest the repressive and death-dealing measures carried through against the countless women victims by Wall Street’s puppets in Marshalized Italy, in fascist Greece and Spain; to link them in solidarity with the anti-imperialist women united 80 million strong in 59 lands in the Women’s International Democratic Federation, who are in the front ranks of the struggle for peace and democracy.

In these lands, anti-fascist women collect millions of signatures for the outlawing of the A-bomb, against the Marshall Plan and Atlantic war pact, for world disarmament, etc. In the German Democratic Republic, five million signatures were collected by women for outlawing the A-bomb. In Italy, the Union of Italian Women collected more than 2 million such signatures for presentation to the De Gasperi government. In France, women conducted demonstrations when bodies of dead French soldiers were returned to their shores as a result of the Marshall-Plan-financed war of their own government against the heroic Vietnamese. In Africa, women barricaded the roads with their bodies to prevent their men from being carted away as prisoners in a militant strike struggle charged with slogans of anti-colonialism and peace. And who can measure the capitalist fear of emulation by American Negro and white women of these peace struggles, particularly of the women of China (as reflected in the All-Asian Women’s Conference held last December in Peking), whose feudal bonds were severed forever as a result of the major victory of the Chinese people’s revolution?

These and other significant anti-imperialist advances, achieved in united-front struggle, should serve to inspire the growing struggles of American women and heighten their consciousness of the need for militant united-front campaigns around the burning demands of the day, against monopoly oppression, against war and fascism.

Reaction’s ideological and political attacks against women

American monopoly capital can offer the masses of American women, who compose more than one-half of our country’s population, a program only of war and fascism. Typical of the ideology governing this war perspective was the article in the recent mid-century issue of Life magazine entitled “Fifty Years of American Women.”

That “contribution” did not hold out the promise to American women along the demagogic 2000 A.D. line of Truman’s State of the Union annual message, but brazenly offered the fascist triple-K (Kinder-Küche-Kirche) pattern of war and a “war psychology” for American women!

The author, Winthrop Sargeant, drawing upon the decadent, Nazi-adopted “theorist,” Oswald Spengler, propounded his cheap philosophy on the expensive Luce paper:

“that only in wartime do the sexes achieve a normal relationship to each other. The male assumes his dominant heroic role, and the female, playing up to the male, assumes her proper and normal function of being feminine, glamorous and inspiring. With the arrival of peace a decline sets in. The male becomes primarily a meal ticket and the female becomes a sexless frump, transferring her interest from the male to various unproductive intellectual pursuits or to neurotic occupations, such as bridge or politics. Feminine civilization thus goes to pot until a new challenge in the form of wartime psychology restores the balance.”

The real intent of such ideology should be obvious from its barbarous, vulgar, fascist essence. The aim of this and other numerous anti-women “theories” is to hamper and curb women’s progressive social participation, particularly in the struggle for peace. This has been the alpha and omega of bourgeois ideological attacks upon women since the post-war betrayal of our nation’s commitments to its wartime allies.

Such ideology accompanies the developing economic crisis and penalizes especially the Negro women, the working women and the working class generally, but also women on the farms, in the offices and in the professions, who are increasingly entering the struggle to resist the worsening of their economic status.

Not always discerned by the labor-progressive forces, however, is the nature of this ideological attack, which increasingly is masked as attacks on woman’s femininity, her womanliness, her pursuit of personal and family happiness. Big capital accelerates its reactionary ideological offensive against the people with forcible opposition to women’s social participation for peace and for her pressing economic and social demands.

None of these attacks, however, has been as rabid as the recent “foreign agent” charge falsely leveled by the Department of Justice against the Congress of American Women on the basis of that organization’s former affiliation with the Women’s International Democratic Federation.

Only the most naive, of course, are startled at the attack against this progressive women’s organization, whose policies, domestic and inter-national, were always identified with the progressive camp. The C.A.W. leadership, in its press statement, answered the continuing attack of the Justice Department, which demands “retroactive compliance” with the undemocratic Kellar-McCormack Act, despite the organization’s disaffiliation from the W.I.D.F. (under protest). The statement pointed out that this organization has been harassed from its very birth precisely because of its advanced policy stand and activities for peace, child welfare and education, Negro-white unity and equal rights for women. Incumbent on labor-progressives is the expression of full support for the struggles of women against these and other attacks and for the National Bread and Butter Conference of Child Care to be held in Chicago on April 15–16. The call for this conference indicates a broad, united-front sponsorship that includes C.A.W. leaders and demands use of government surpluses and the diversion of war funds to feed the nation’s needy children.

Economic conditions of women workers

Any true assessment of women’s present status in the United States must begin with an evaluation of the effects of the growing economic crisis upon the working women, farm women, workers’ wives, Negro women, women of various national origins, etc. The ruthless Taft-Hartley-employer drive to depress the workers’ wage standards and abolish labor’s right to strike and bargain collectively, as well as the wholesale ouster of Negro workers from many industries, was presaged by the post-war systemic displacement of women from basic industry. While women constituted 36.1 percent of all workers in 1945, this figure was reduced to 27.6 percent by 1947. Despite this, there still remains a sizable force of 17½ million women workers in industry, approximately three million of whom are organized in the trade unions, the vast major-it still being unorganized.

The sparse economic data available show that the burdens of the crisis are increasingly being placed on the backs of women workers, who receive unequal wages, are victims of speed-up and face a sharp challenge to their very right to work. Older women workers are increasingly being penalized in the growing layoffs. Close to 30 percent of the ester-mated 6 million unemployed are women workers.

Side by side with this reactionary offensive against their living standards, women workers have increasing economic responsibility-ties. More than half of these women, as revealed in a survey by the Women’s Bureau of the U.S. Department of Labor, are economic heads of families. The continued expulsion of women from Indus-try, the growing unemployment of men and youth, as well as the high, monopoly-fixed prices of food and consumer goods generally, are impoverishing the American family and taking a heavy toll on the people’s health.

Impoverishment has hit the farm women to an alarming degree. Almost 70 percent of all farm families earned less than $2000 in 1948, when the growing agricultural crisis was only in its first stage.

Women workers still find a large gap between their wages and those of men doing the same work, which the wages of Negro women are particularly depressed below the minimum wage necessary to sustain life.

There are increasing trends toward limited curricula for women students and limited opportunities for women in the professions. Employment trends also show increasing penalization of married women workers who constitute more than half of all working women.

The attempt by employers to foment divisions between men and women workers—to create a “sex antagonism”—is an increasing feature of the offensive to depress the wages of women and the working class in general. Male workers are being told that the dismissal of married women and the “return of women to the kitchen” will lead to an end of unemployment among the male workers. But this whole campaign against “double earning” and for a “return of women to the kitchen” is nothing but a cloak for the reactionary, Taft-Hartley offensive against wages, working conditions and social security benefits, with a view to a wide-scale dumping of workers, male as well as female.

It must be frankly stated that there has been lethargy on the part of progressives in the labor movement in answering and combatting this insolent demagogy. It should be pointed out that the German finance capitalists also used this demagogic line prior to the rise of Hitler. By perpetuating the lying slogan that “woman’s place is in the home,” monopoly capital seeks to conceal the real source of the problems of all workers.

Consequently, this is a question of attacks, not only against the masses of women, but against the working class as a whole. When we deal with the situation of women workers, we do so, not only to protect the most exploited section of the working class, but in order to rally labor-progressives and our own Party for work among the masses of women workers, to lead them into the emerging anti-fascist, anti-war coalition.

Trade unions and women workers

There is every evidence that working women’s militancy is increasing, as evidenced last year in strikes in such industries as electrical, commune-cations, packinghouse and in strikes of teachers and white-collar work-errs. Have labor-progressives grasped the significance of the vital need for a trade-union program based on concrete knowledge of the conditions of the woman worker, an understanding of reaction’s attacks on her, economically, politically, socially?

Some Left-progressive unionists are beginning to tackle this problem as a decisive one. In New York District No 4 of U.E., splendid initiative was shown by the official establishment of a Women’s Committee. Men and women unionists participate jointly to formulate a program and to combat the growing unemployment trends, especially the ouster of married women and their replacement, at lower wages, by young girls from high schools—a trend that affects the wages of all workers. In this union, also, conferences have been held on the problems of the women workers. Similarly, in Illinois, an Armour packinghouse local held a women’s conference with the aim of enhancing the participation of Negro and white women workers; as the result of its educational work and struggle, it succeeded in extending the leave for pregnancy from the previous three-month limit to one year.

But these instances are exceptions and not the rule, and it would be incorrect if we failed to state that attitudes of male supremacy among Left-progressives in unions and elsewhere have contributed to the gross lack of awareness of the need to struggle for women’s demands in the shops and departments. This bourgeois ideology is reflected in the acceptance of the bourgeois attitude of “normal toleration” of women in industry as a “temporary” phenomenon. This dangerous, tenacious ideology must be fought, on the basis of recognition that the dynamics of capitalist society itself means the tearing of women away from the home into industry as a permanent part of the exploited labor force. Marx and Engels, the founders of scientific socialism, more than one-hundred years ago exposed the pious hypocrisy of the troubadours of capitalism who composed hymns about the “glorious future” of the family relationship under capitalism; they noted the fact, which many progressives too readily forget, that “by the action of modern industry, all family ties among the proletarians are torn asunder . . . The bourgeoisie has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced the family relation to a mere money relation” (Manifesto of the Communist Party).

The absence of a special vehicle to deal with the problems of women workers in the unions has undoubtedly contributed to dealing with these problems, not as a union question, but solely as a woman’s question. It is of course, both. But it must be tackled as a special union responsibility, with the Communists and progressives boldly in the forefront. In many instances this approach would improve rank-and-file struggles for wage increases, against speed-up and around other concrete demands, and would also win militant unionists for active participation within the emerging rank-and-file movements. In this connection, it is also necessary to examine the just complaints of many women trade unionists, particularly on a shop level, who are concerned over the trend toward fewer elected women officers, and the relegation of women merely to appointive positions, as well as the unnecessary pattern of “all-male organization” union structure on many levels.

This entire question requires that we take into account also the position of the wives of trade unionists.

Indicative of the growing militancy of workers’ wives is the role of miners’ wives, hundreds of whom, Negro and white, recently picketed the empty tipples in the mining camps of West Virginia in support of the “no contract, no work” struggle of their fighting husbands, sons and brothers. Similarly, in the longshore trade, during the Local 968 strike in New York, wives of workers, particularly Negro and Italian women, played an outstanding role. Likewise, in Gary and South Chicago, wives of steel-workers issued open letters of support for the miners’ struggle at the steel plant gates, collected food, etc.

Reactionary propaganda is not at all loath to exploit the wrong concepts of many workers’ wives, who, because of political backwardness stemming from household drudgery, lack of political participation, etc., often adopt the view that it is the union, or the progressive movement, that robs them of their men in relation to their own home responsibilities.

Attention to the organization of wives and working men by labor progressives and Communists therefore becomes an urgent political necessity. And key to avoiding past errors is the enlisting of women themselves, with the support of the men, at the level of their readiness to struggle.

The Equal Rights Amendment

In the context of these developments and attacks upon women’s economic and social status, one must also see the recent passage of the Equal Rights Amendment in the U.S. Senate by a 63–19 vote. The original amendment, sponsored by the National Women’s Party, proceeding from an equalitarian concept of women’s legal status in the U.S., would have wiped out all protective legislation won by women with the assistance of the trade unions over the past decades. Objection to the original amendment by labor-progressives and by our Party led to the formation of a coalition of some 43 organizations, including such groups as the Women’s Trade Union League, the U.S. Women’s Bureau, the American Association of University Women, C.I.O. and A.F. of L. unions, the National Association of Negro Women, etc.

A proper approach to such legislation today must primarily be based on recognizing that it is projected in the atmosphere of the cold war, carrying with it a mandate for drafting of women into the armed forces, for the war economy. Without such recognition, the present Amendment, which now urges no tampering with previously won protective legislative gains for women workers, might serve as an effective catch-all for many unwary supporters of equal rights for women.

Despite this danger, Left-progressives should not fail to utilize the broad debate already taking place to expose women’s actual status in law; some 1,000 legal restrictions still operate at women’s expense in numerous states, and minimum-wage legislation does not exist for over 1 million Negro women domestic workers. A demand for legislative hearings and the exposure of the reactionary attacks now prevalent in numerous state legislatures against the legislative gains of women workers are necessary to guarantee that no bill for equal rights for women becomes the law of the land without proper safeguards protecting the special measures meeting the needs of women workers. Perspective of a necessary referendum carrying a 37-state majority necessary to the bill’s passage should not obscure the possibility that passage of the legislation in its present form, or minus the protective clause, could serve as a means of bipartisan electoral maneuvers for 1950 and the passage of the Amendment in its original reactionary form.

A rich heritage of struggle

Before 1908 and since, American women have made lasting contributions in the struggle for social progress: against slavery and Negro oppression, for equal rights for women and women’s suffrage, against capitalist exploitation, for peace and for Socialism. Special tribute must be paid those heroic women who gave their lives in the struggle for Socialism and freedom: Elsie Smith, Anna Damon, Rose Pastor Stokes, Fanny Sellins, Williana Burroughs and Grace Campbell. In this period of the U.S. monopoly drive to war and world domination, reaction pays unwilling tribute to the role of the Communist women leaders by its deportation delirium. The present-day struggles of progressive and Communist women merge with the traditions and contributions of such great anti-slavery fighters as Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, of such militant women proletarians as the textile workers of 1848, of such women pioneers as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, of such builders of America’s progressive and working-class heritages as Kate Richards O’Hare, Mother Jones, Ella Reeve Bloor, Anita Whitney and Elizabeth Gurley Flynn.

March 8 was designated International Women’s Day by the International Socialist Conference in 1910, upon the initiative of Clara Zetkin, the heroic German Communist leader, who later electrified the world with her brave denunciation of the Nazis in Hitler’s Reichstag in 1933. Already in 1907, Lenin demanded that the woman question be specifically mentioned in Socialist programs because of the special problems, needs and demands of toiling women. Present at the 1910 conference as a representative of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party, Lenin strongly supported and urged adoption of the resolution inaugurating International Women’s Day. Thus did the American-initiated March 8 become International Women’s Day.

The opportunist degeneration of the leadership of the Second International inevitably reduced the struggle for the emancipation of women to a paper resolution. Interested only in catching votes, the Socialist parties paid attention to the woman question only during elections.

Lenin and Stalin restored and further developed the revolutionary Marxist position on the woman question. Thus, Stalin declared:

“There has not been a single great movement of the oppressed in history in which working women have not played a part. Working women, who are the most oppressed of all the oppressed, have never stood aloof, and could not stand aloof, from the great march of emancipation.” (Joseph Stalin: A Political Biography, p. 65)

Lenin and Stalin taught that the position of working women in capitalist society as “the most oppressed of all the oppressed” makes them more than a reserve, makes them a full-fledged part, of the “regular army” of the proletariat. Stalin wrote:

“The female industrial workers and peasants constitute one of the biggest reserves of the working class… Whether this female reserve goes with the working class or against it will determine the fate of the proletarian movement… The first task of the proletariat and of its vanguard, the Communist Party, therefore, is to wage a resolute struggle to wrest women, the women workers and peasants, from the influence of the bourgeoisie, politically to educate and to organize the women workers and peasants under the banner of the proletariat… But working women… are something more than a reserve. They may and should become… a regular army of the working class… fighting shoulder to shoulder with the great army of the proletariat…” (ibid.)

Women under socialism

Complete emancipation of women is possible only under Socialism. It was only with the October Socialist Revolution that, for the first time in history, women were fully emancipated and guaranteed their full social equality in every phase of life.

“Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life” (New Soviet Constitution, Article 122).

But equal rights in the U.S.S.R. are not just formal legal rights, which, under bourgeois democracy, are curtailed, where not denied in reality by the very nature of capitalist exploitation. In the Soviet Union, full enjoyment of equal rights by women is guaranteed by the very nature of the Socialist society, in which class divisions and human exploitation are abolished. In bourgeois democracies, equal rights for women constitute at best a programmatic demand to be fought for, and constant struggle is necessary to defend even those rights that are enacted into law.

In the U.S.S.R. equal-rights articles in the law of the land are but codifications of already existing and guaranteed reality. No wonder Soviet women express such supreme confidence in Socialism and such love for the people. Their respect for other nations, their profound sympathy with the oppressed peoples fighting for national liberation, is based on the firm conviction that their Socialist country is the decisive factor and leader in the struggle for peace.

Marxism-Leninism rejects as fallacious all petty-bourgeois equalitarian notions. Equal rights under Socialism do not mean that women do not have special protection and social care necessitated by their special function (child bearing, etc.) and special needs which do not apply to men.

Comrade Foster’s contribution

The Communist Party of the U.S.A. has many positive achievements to record during the last 30 years in the field of struggle for women’s rights and in promoting the participation of women in the struggle against war and fascism.

Outstanding was the recent participation of Party women and of the women comrades who are wives of the 12 indicted leaders of our Party in the mass struggle to win the first round in the Foley Square thought-control trial. And in the continuing struggle against the frame-up of our Party leaders we must involve ever larger masses of women.

Under Comrade Foster’s initiative and contributions to the deepening of our theoretical understanding of the woman question, a new political appreciation of our tasks is developing in the Party. Party Commissions on Work Among Women are functioning in the larger districts and in smaller ones. International Women’s Day will mark a high point in ideological and political mobilization and in organizational steps to intensify our united-front activities among women, particularly around the peace struggle. As a further contribution to that end, a well-rounded theoretical-ideological outline on the position of Marxism-Leninism on the woman question is being prepared.

Comrade Foster called for theoretical mastery of the woman question as vitally necessary to combat the numerous anti-woman prejudices prevalent in our capitalist society, and the “whole system of male superiority ideas which continue to play such an important part in woman’s subjugation.” An important guide to the Party’s work among women are the following words of Comrade Foster:

“The basic purpose of all our theoretical studies is to clarify, deepen and strengthen our practical programs of struggle and work. This is true on the question of women’s work, as well as in other branches of our Party’s activities. Hence, a sharpening up of our theoretical analysis of, and ideological struggle against, male supremacy, will help our day-to-day work among women…”

Comrade Foster particularly emphasized the ideological preconditions for effective struggle on this front:

“But such demands and struggles, vital as they may be, are in them-selves not enough. They must be reinforced by an energetic struggle against all conceptions of male superiority. But this is just what is lacking…. An ideological attack must be made against the whole system of male superiority ideas which continue to play such an important part in woman’s subjugation. And such an ideological campaign must be based on sound theoretical work (William Z. Foster, “On Improving the Party’s Work Among Women,” Political Affairs, November 1948).”

Party tasks

Following Comrade Foster’s article in Political Affairs, nine Party Conferences on Work Among Women were held with the active participation of district Party leaders. Two major regional schools to train women cadres were held. An all-day conference on Marxism-Leninism and the Woman Question held at the Jefferson School of Social Science last summer was attended by 600 women and men. These developments evidence a thirst for knowledge of the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the woman question.

But it must be frankly stated that it is necessary to combat all and sundry male supremacist ideas still pervading the labor and progressive movements and our Party. The uprooting of this ideology, which emanates from the ruling class and is sustained by centuries of myths pertaining to the “biological inferiority” of women, requires a sustained struggle. Failure to recognize the special social disabilities of women under capitalism is one of the chief manifestations of male supremacy. These special forms of oppression particularly affect the working women, the farm women and the triply oppressed Negro women; but, in varying degrees, they help to determine the inferior status of women in all classes of society.

Progressive and Communist men must become vanguard fighters against male supremacist ideas and for equal rights for women. Too often we observe in the expression and practice of labor-progressive, and even some Communist, men glib talk about women “as allies” but no commensurate effort to combat male supremacy notions which hamper woman’s ability to struggle for peace and security. Too many labor-progressive men, not excluding some Communists, resist the full participation of women, avow bourgeois “equalitarian” nations as regards women, tend to avoid full discussion of the woman question and shunt the problem aside with peremptory decisions. What the promotion of a sound theoretical understanding of this question would achieve for our Party is shown by the initial results of the cadre training schools and seminars on the woman question, many of whose students have begun seriously to tackle male supremacist notions in relation to the major tasks of the movement and in relation to their own attitudes.

The manifestation of bourgeois feminism in the progressive women’s movement and also in our Party is a direct result of the prevalence of male superiority ideas and shows the need for our women comrades to study the Marxist-Leninist teachings on the woman question. According to bourgeois feminism, woman’s oppression stems, not from the capitalist system, but from men. Marxism-Leninism, just as it rejects and combats the petty-bourgeois “equalitarianism” fostered by Social-Democracy, so it has nothing in common with the bourgeois idiocy of “the battle of the sexes” or the irrational Freudian “approach” to the woman question. These false ideologies must be combatted by women labor-progressives and in the first place by women Communists. Key participants in the fight against these ideologies, and in the fight to enlist the masses of women for the pro-peace struggle, must be the advanced trade-union women and women Communists on all levels of Party leadership. All Communist women must, as Lenin said, “themselves become part of the mass movement,” taking responsibility for the liberation of women.

We must guarantee that women cadres end isolation from the masses of women, by assigning these cadres to tasks of work among women, on a mass and Party basis. The Women’s Commissions of the Party must be strengthened. All Party departments and Commissions must deal more consistently with these questions, putting an end to the false concept that work among women represents “second-class citizenship” in our Party. A key responsibility of all Women’s Commissions is increased attention and support to the growing movements of youth.

We must gauge our Party’s work among women by our effectiveness in giving leadership and guidance to our cadres in mass work, with a view to concentrating among working-class women and building the Party. To this end, further, working-class and Negro women forces need to be promoted in all spheres of Party work and mass activity.

An examination of our work among women is necessary in all Party districts. There is need of Party conferences on the problems of working women and housewives. The good beginnings of examining the long neglected problems of Negro women must become an integral part of all our future work among women. This arises as an imperative task in the light of the militancy and tenacity of Negro women participating in struggles on all fronts.

Experience shows that a major area of our work should and must be in the field of education, where monopoly reaction and the Roman Catholic hierarchy concentrate in a policy in inculcating militarist, racist, pro-fascist ideology in the minds of our children; of victimizing progressive teachers, of conducting witch-hunts, etc. Where good work has been carried on in this sphere, victories have been won, as in the defeat of reactionary legislative measures directed at progressive teachers. In developing struggles to alleviate the frightful conditions of schooling, particularly in Negro, Puerto Rican, Mexican and other working-class communities, Communist and progressive women have an opportunity for developing an exceedingly broad union front for successful endeavor.

By connecting the struggle against the seemingly little issues of crowded schoolrooms, unsanitary conditions, lack of child care facilities, etc., with the issues of reactionary content of teaching—racism, jingoism, etc.—the political consciousness of the parent masses can be raised to the understanding of the interconnection between the demand for lunch for a hungry child and the demand of the people for economic security; between the campaign for the dismissal of a Negro-hating, anti-Semitic Mae Quinn from the school system and the fight of the people for democratic rights; between the protest against a jingoistic school text and the broad fight of the people for peace.

In keeping with the spirit of International Women’s Day, tremendous tasks fall upon our Party. The mobilization of the masses of Americans, together with the enlisting and activation of women cadres, for heightened struggles for peace and for the special needs of oppressed womanhood, is indispensable to the building and strengthening of the anti-fascist, anti-imperialist, anti-war coalition. In working for a stronger peace movement among the women as such, we must draw the masses of women into the impending 1950 election campaign and thereby, on the basis of their experiences in the struggle, help raise their political consciousness to the understanding of the bipartisan demagogy and the hollowness of Truman’s tall promises. Large masses of women can thus be brought to a full break with the two-party system of monopoly capital and to adherence to the third-party movement. In the course of this development, with our Party performing its vanguard task, advanced sections among the working-class women will attain the level of Socialist consciousness and will, as recruited Communists, carry on their struggle among the broad masses of women upon the scientific conviction that the final guarantee of peace, bread and freedom, and the full emancipation of subjected woman-kind, will be achieved only in a Socialist America.

References

[1] Maddie Dery, “This year, IWD means building an anti-imperialist movement,” Breaking the Chains, 07 March 2023. Available here.
[2] Adiah Hicks, “Claudia Jones: Revolutionary Feminist and Fighter,” Breaking the Chains, 27 December 2018. Available here.
[3] Claudia Jones, “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman!” Political Affairs 28, no. 6 (1949): 5, 15.
[4] Claudia Jones, “International Women’s Day and the Struggle for Peace” Political Affairs, 29 no. 3 (1950): 33-34.
[5] Ibid., 34.
[6] Ibid., 43.
[7] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 44.
[8] Carole Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Communist Claudia Jones (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008), 151, 141.
[9] Claudia Jones “Claudia Jones,” in 13 Communists Speak to the Court (New York: New Century Publishers, 1953), 22.
[10] Ibid., 23.
[11] Claudia Jones, cited in Davies, Left of Karl Marx, 143-144.
[12] Charisse Burden-Stelly, “Constructing Deportable Subjectivity: Antiforeignness, Antiradicalism, and Antiblackness during the McCarthyist Structure of Feeling,” Souls 19, no. 3 (2017): 343.
[13] The Hill, “Biden Criticizes Conditions in Afghanistan, Ukraine on International Women’s Day,” The Hill, 08 March 2023. Available here.

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The following two-part series of The Socialist Program with Brian Becker delves into the real history of the Israeli state. Both episodes feature Richard Becker, author of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire—a book for which Liberation School has a study and...

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The following two-part series of The Socialist Program with Brian Becker delves into the real history of the Israeli state. Both episodes feature Richard Becker, author of Palestine, Israel and the U.S. Empire—a book for which Liberation School has a study and...