Workers Vanguard No. 954
12 March 2010
Womens Oppression in Racist Capitalist America
For Free Abortion on Demand!
International Womens Day
For Womens Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!
(Women and Revolution pages)
While bourgeois feminists may celebrate it, March 8—International Women’s Day (IWD)—is a workers’ celebration. It originated in 1908 among female needle trades workers in Manhattan’s Lower East Side who marched for the eight-hour day, for an end to child labor and for equal voting rights for women. By far the most important celebration of IWD took place in Petrograd on 8 March 1917 (February 23 in the old Julian calendar), when women textile workers led a strike of more than 90,000 workers. This signaled the end of tsarist rule and the beginning of the Russian Revolution, which culminated in the proletarian seizure of power on November 7 led by the Bolshevik Party.
In recognition of IWD, we print below a presentation, abridged and edited for publication, by Erica Jones in New York City on 10 October 2009. The talk was part of a series of public forums under the title “U.S. Imperialism: Enemy of Women’s Rights Internationally—For Women’s Liberation Through Socialist Revolution!” that were also held in Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. The forums saluted Dr. George Tiller, the courageous abortion provider who, at age 67, was murdered in his church last May for his services to women at the clinic he headed in Wichita, Kansas. For decades, Dr. Tiller withstood all the threats and provocations spewed out by reactionaries dedicated to forcing women to bear children against their will. He was specially targeted by the anti-abortion terrorists as one of a very small number of doctors performing late-term abortions.
Dr. Tiller’s murderer, Scott Roeder, obscenely sought to turn his crime into an endorsement of assassinating doctors in the name of saving “babies” during his trial in January. But on January 29, the jury took only 37 minutes to find Roeder guilty of murder. His sentencing is scheduled to take place on April 1.
Dr. Tiller’s surviving family decided to close the clinic, so at least in this way the killer achieved his aim of denying more women the still formally legal right to abortion. But in the wake of Tiller’s murder, his longtime colleague Dr. Leroy Carhart began performing late-term abortions at his clinic in suburban Omaha, Nebraska. Fully aware that this places him in the crosshairs of such anti-woman reactionaries as Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry, who denounced Roeder’s trial as a “scam,” Dr. Carhart hired two of Tiller’s former staff members and began training his own clinic staff in the practice of late-term abortions because “there is a need, and I feel deeply about it.” We have the deepest admiration for Drs. Tiller and Carhart and their staff, who put their lives on the line to defend women’s rights.
* * *
We are here today to honor the memory of Dr. George Tiller. On May 31, Dr. Tiller, one of only three doctors still providing late-term abortions in the United States, was shot and killed at the church he attended. A right-wing anti-abortion bigot has been arrested. Tiller had been a main target of the “pro-life” god squad for decades. In 1991, tens of thousands of Operation Rescue fanatics blockaded his clinic for six weeks. They campaigned—successfully—to have him prosecuted; boycotted his suppliers; tailed him with hidden cameras; branded him “Tiller the baby killer”; hit him with lawsuits, legislation and regulatory complaints; and protested relentlessly. Some sent death threats. One bombed his clinic. Another tried to kill him in 1993, firing five shots and wounding him in both arms.
Between 1993 and 1998, anti-abortion terrorists murdered seven people for providing abortions: three doctors, two clinic workers, an escort and a clinic security guard. Doctors trained in and practicing abortion are becoming extinct. There is justifiable fear that they and their families, friends, co-workers will be subjected to harassment, violence and death.
Before I joined the Spartacist League, I attended a forum on the woman question a few months after the murder of abortion doctor Barnett Slepian in Buffalo in 1998. Our comrade Carla, who gave the presentation, quoted the French utopian socialist Charles Fourier, who said that you could gauge what level a society had attained by the position and status of women within that society. She then asked the audience, “So, looking around, where do women stand in 1999?”
Well, it’s ten years later and women still stand in the same place in this miserable capitalist society. Doctors can still get prosecuted and even murdered for providing women with abortions. One in five American children lives in poverty, the highest rate in the industrialized West, and nearly eleven million have no health insurance. Hundreds of thousands are in foster care, and even before the financial crisis hit, 1.5 million were homeless. The infant mortality rate in the inner cities of Washington, D.C., New Haven, East St. Louis and Chicago rivals that of Malaysia. This deplorable fact is largely attributable to the lack of health care available to poor women. It is also partly due to the great difficulty of getting an abortion in the U.S., even compared with other industrialized countries.
“Democratic” Imperialists: Enemies of Women’s Rights
In the epoch of imperialist decay, the period we live in, where the capitalist economic system has long outgrown its progressive character and acts as an obstacle to humanity’s future, millions of women in many sections of the world lead short, brutalized lives of pain and toil. Female children’s genital organs are mutilated; women are bought and sold like cattle in the form of the bride price and dowries; women are killed with impunity in the name of “honor.” Approximately 25 percent of the world population lives in countries with highly restrictive abortion laws, mostly in Latin America, Africa and Asia. In some countries, such as Chile, women still go to prison for having illegal abortions.
In countries like Afghanistan, women are prohibited access to simple contraception, like condoms, let alone abortion. This is a country where girls are assaulted for going to school and female politicians are shot or threatened with beheading for daring to work outside the home. In Iraq, the U.S. imperialist occupation has meant the resurgence of religious reaction in a country that was formerly known in the Near East for its secularism.
No matter how much they hypocritically yell about “freedom,” the U.S. ruling class is the bloodiest ruling class in history and is the main enemy of the workers, women and the oppressed in the U.S. and worldwide, insofar as it is still the strongest capitalist power in the world today. Our starting point is proletarian class opposition to the U.S. capitalist rulers and to the imperialist system as a whole. We call for all U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan now! Hands off Pakistan! Hands off Iran!
The closest women ever came to the possibility of social liberation in Afghanistan was the situation that opened 30 years ago with the Soviet military intervention. The age-old enslavement of women had begun to break down starting in 1978 under the regime of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, backed by the then-Soviet Union. Women were becoming doctors and lawyers, casting off the stifling head-to-toe burqa and walking the streets of Kabul, unaccompanied, in modern dress. But in one of the biggest covert CIA operations in history, the U.S., in a proxy war against the Soviet Union, backed an Islamic insurgency that violently opposed the regime’s attempt to reduce the traditional bride price and introduce education for girls and adult women.
This was probably the first shooting war in modern history that was specifically ignited by the question of women’s liberation. We hailed the Soviet Army’s intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 against the Islamic reactionaries, and we centered our propaganda on what the defeat would mean for the masses of the Afghan peoples, particularly women. And we highlighted the threat posed to the Soviet Union, the degenerated workers state which we unconditionally militarily defended.
The Soviet intervention was unambiguously progressive, underlining our Trotskyist understanding that despite its degeneration under a Stalinist bureaucratic caste, the Soviet Union had remained a workers state embodying historic gains of the October Revolution of 1917, centrally collectivized property and the planned economy. A Red Army victory in Afghanistan would have posed the extension of the social gains of the October Revolution through a prolonged presence leading to Afghanistan’s integration into the Soviet system, which would have brought tremendous gains to the hideously oppressed Afghan peoples. The Soviet intervention also offered the prospect of reanimating the program of revolutionary internationalism in the Soviet Union, spurring the struggle for political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucracy. The Soviets’ withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988-89, a futile attempt to conciliate imperialism, was a betrayal of Afghan women that also paved the way for the restoration of capitalism in the USSR itself.
The reformist International Socialist Organization (ISO), in an article titled “Should the Left Call for Taliban Victory?” [SocialistWorker.org, 18 August 2009] says: “We should condemn unreservedly the oppression of women and the general social conservatism of the pre-2001 Taliban regime, as well, of course, as their efforts to cut deals with regional and global superpowers against the interests of the vast majority of Afghans.” These fake socialists express concern over the state of women in Afghanistan now. Too bad that wasn’t the case 30 years ago when it really mattered. The coming to power of anti-woman fundamentalist reactionaries in Afghanistan was actually cheered on by a number of left groups, like the ISO. In the current period, they helped build the “movement” to elect Obama, who ran on a promise to beef up the military occupation there. After his election and the ISO’s victory party to celebrate it, Obama, true to his promise, has committed to sending more troops to Afghanistan than Bush to carry out the bloody occupation.
The Family: Key Institution of Women’s Oppression
The question of women’s oppression is one of the oldest social issues. In his 1884 book, The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State, Friedrich Engels lays out the historical roots of women’s oppression by means of the family in the rise and consolidation of private property and the state. He writes that “the overthrow of mother-right was the world historical defeat of the female sex. The man took command in the home also; the woman was degraded and reduced to servitude, she became the slave of his lust and a mere instrument for the production of children.”
The development of productive techniques—especially the development of agriculture—led for the first time to the existence of a social surplus that made possible a leisured ruling class. The division of society into antagonistic classes brought also the need for a state to protect the ruling class. The class division of society led to the monogamous family and patrilineal descent. The biological fact of childbearing and child rearing became tied to the social oppression of women. As a means of consolidating wealth in the hands of a tiny minority, the patriarchal family decreed monogamy for women as a way to ensure that inheritance of property went to the proper descendants.
The institution of the family reinforces, as Engels put it, “the supremacy of the man over the woman, and the individual family as the economic unit of society.” The family is a key institution for the oppression of women and youth. For the proletariat, which has no property to leave to the next generation, the family serves to produce future generations of workers for capitalist exploitation and to provide for the care of the young and the old and other social services the capitalists don’t want to pay for. The family also indoctrinates young people in the ideologies pushed by the bourgeoisie, instilling social conservatism.
Women’s liberation requires a socialist revolution to end capitalist rule and lay the material basis for the replacement of the family, opening the door not only to legal equality but to social equality. The family in its economic and social functions can’t simply be done away with. It must be replaced by the socialization of housework and other tasks that now fall upon it. To do so means a comprehensive network of free, well-equipped, 24-hour childcare centers; free, top-quality medical care including abortion, no matter what term in pregnancy; socialization of such services as laundry and the preparation of meals; free access to all educational institutions. But achieving this, placing society’s resources truly in the service of working people, requires the overthrow of the capitalist private property system and the creation of a socialized economy under a revolutionary workers government, the dictatorship of the proletariat, which replaces the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
Oppression of women affects all classes, but the fight for women’s liberation is inseparably linked to the struggles of the working class and the freeing of all working people from capitalist exploitation. The oppression of women is a question of special oppression internationally because you cannot fight for socialist revolution anywhere on this earth without championing the emancipation of women.
The Bolsheviks and Women’s Emancipation
It is our task to build an internationalist, vanguard working-class party that will lead the working class to seize the means of production—a party like the Bolshevik Party that led the 1917 Russian Revolution. The revolution was sparked by mass demonstrations in February 1917 by what Trotsky called the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat, largely women textile workers, demanding bread. In October, Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party led the socialist revolution. The proletarian regime removed from the books all legal references to “illegitimate” children, made marriage and divorce simple civil acts and got rid of all laws against consensual sex, including homosexuality. In its insistence on individual rights and gender equality, the Bolsheviks’ Family Code constituted nothing less than the most progressive family legislation the world had ever seen.
In 1920, women were provided the right to free abortion on demand. The clearing out of reactionary laws was coupled with attempts to afford mothers all the material resources possible. To the extent they could, the Bolsheviks set up communal kitchens and laundries and childcare centers. And they did this under conditions of immense poverty and devastation resulting from World War I and also from the Civil War, in which domestic counterrevolutionaries were aided by numerous capitalist countries that invaded the workers state. But the Bolsheviks recognized that without qualitative economic development, the liberation of women was a utopian fantasy. Leon Trotsky explained that from the beginning, the Bolsheviks recognized that the actual liberation of women was unrealizable on a basis of “generalized want.”
Lenin’s Bolsheviks broke the capitalist system at its weakest link, and they understood that unless the proletarian revolution was extended to the major capitalist powers, most immediately Germany, an isolated dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia could not long survive. They initiated the Third (Communist) International to extend the revolution. But the pressure of imperialist encirclement, the devastation of the Russian working class in the Civil War and the isolation of the workers state, particularly after the defeat of a revolutionary opportunity in Germany in 1923, enabled a bureaucratic layer headed by Stalin to usurp power in a political counterrevolution in 1923-24.
While resting on and deriving its privileges from the socialized property forms of the workers state, the Stalinist bureaucracy was not irrevocably committed to their defense. Stalin’s “theory” of “socialism in one country,” expressing the nationally limited interests of the Kremlin bureaucracy, increasingly turned the Communist International from an instrument of the world revolution into a new obstacle to revolution. The overall impact on women of the bureaucracy’s usurpation of political power from the proletariat was decidedly negative. In June 1936, the Soviet Central Executive Committee issued a decree outlawing abortion. The new law offered incentives to childbearing by providing stipends for new mothers, large bonuses for women with many children and longer maternity leaves. It made divorce harder to get and stiffened the penalties for not paying alimony or child support. The bureaucracy declared the oppressive institution of the family a “socialist” unit.
The Stalinist bureaucracy opposed the fight for international revolution and so degraded the great ideals of communism with bureaucratic distortions and lies that, in the end in 1991-92, the working class did not fight against the revolution’s final undoing and the restoration of capitalist rule under Boris Yeltsin. We defended the Soviet degenerated workers state, the DDR (East Germany) and the East European deformed workers states unconditionally against military attacks by imperialism and against internal counterrevolution while at the same time fighting for proletarian political revolution. Today we defend the remaining deformed workers states: China, Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam.
The restoration of capitalism in East Europe and the Soviet Union was a direct blow to women, in every country. I came across an article on the Huffington Post Web site that told a story about a woman who was seeking an abortion in Poland, where it is now severely restricted. She had a condition in which pregnancy would likely cause blindness; as a result of being denied the abortion, she nearly went blind. The author, Vanessa Gera, writes: “Abortions were easily available under communism but with the transformation to democracy the once-marginalized Catholic church regained significant influence. Today Poland allows the termination of a pregnancy until the 12th week but only if the mother’s life is in danger, the fetus is irreparably damaged or the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.” This is a good example of what capitalist counterrevolution has meant in the former Eastern bloc and what “democracy” under capitalism means.
Democrats Attack Abortion Rights
Abortion is a politically explosive issue everywhere because it raises the spectre of women’s equality. This simple and safe medical procedure provides women with some control over reproduction. For this reason it is viewed as a threat to the institution of the family. For a good part of the last 40 years, the anti-abortion crusade has been on the cutting edge of all-sided social reaction, wielded by institutionalized religion backed by the repressive power of the state under both the Democratic and Republican parties.
The emergence of the religious right in the late 1970s as an increasingly powerful and accepted force shaping social policy reflected the overall political and economic interests of U.S. imperialism at the time. Coming to office in 1977, the Democratic Carter administration kicked off an onslaught of domestic social reaction coupled with the renewal of U.S. imperialism’s Cold War drive aimed at the destruction of the Soviet Union. The American ruling class needed to overcome widespread fear and loathing of the government following the explosive years of the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, the rise of the New Left and finally the Watergate break-in that forced the resignation of Republican president Richard (“I am not a crook”) Nixon in 1974.
For the bourgeoisie, the social turmoil and defiance of authority were deeply disturbing, and the potential for an alliance of black militants and radicalized students with an increasingly restive labor movement was dangerous. Thus once the ruling class had cut its losses in Vietnam, where U.S. imperialism was defeated by the heroic workers and peasants, and sealed up that source of social instability, a major bourgeois ideological assault was launched to overcome the “Vietnam syndrome” and to instill an unquestioning acceptance of capitalism, God and family, including once again the desirability of dying for one’s country.
Abortion rights were among the gains made when the rulers felt they had to grant some concessions to the restless population. But like all such gains under capitalism, they were eminently reversible. The Hyde Amendment, enacted into law under Jimmy Carter, eliminated federal funding of abortion coverage under Medicaid, essentially depriving poor women of access to abortion. During Bill Clinton’s eight years in office, safe access to abortion was effectively gutted across much of the country. The number of abortion providers plummeted 14 percent between 1992 and 1996, and a huge number of laws were passed chipping away at abortion rights, including parental consent regulations targeting teenagers.
“Crisis pregnancy centers”—fake clinics set up to subject pregnant women to anti-abortion propaganda and otherwise pressure them to carry the fetus to term—now outnumber actual abortion clinics. There are as many as 4,000 of these anti-abortion centers, which have received $60 million in federal abstinence and marriage-promotion funds. Meanwhile, 87 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion clinic.
As for Obama, while he claimed he was outraged by Dr. Tiller’s murder, as the Commander-in-Chief of U.S. imperialism he is the class enemy of working and oppressed women around the world. He explicitly disavowed defending the rights of women as well as immigrants in his health care proposal, proclaiming that “the reforms I’m proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally” and that “under our plan, no federal dollars will be used to fund abortion, and federal conscience laws will remain in place.” Earlier, Obama had pledged to uphold “the tradition in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government-funded health care.” The “tradition” Obama is referring to is the Hyde Amendment.
Formal legality alone will not help poor, minority and working-class women get abortions if there’s no doctors around to perform them and no clinics left to perform them in, and if they don’t have the money to pay for them. We have always fought for free abortion on demand as a necessary component of free, quality health care for all.
Today, millions of poor women are denied access to abortion under Medicaid programs. Only four states—New York, Hawaii, Maryland, Washington—provide state funding to allow Medicaid insurance to pay for abortions. Thirteen other states, including California and Illinois, make Medicaid recipients seeking abortions get a court order—they have to plead before the bourgeois justices to be allowed to not have a child. In 32 other states, funding for abortion is restricted to a woman whose life is in danger, is a victim of rape or is carrying a child of incest. Women living in these states are either forced to bear a child, forced to have an illegal abortion or forced to do whatever it takes to try to come up with the cash to travel across the state line to pay for an abortion, if it’s not too late in the term.
For all their lip service about “the right to choose,” the Democrats have repeatedly slashed access to abortion for working women and the poor. Obama calls for a “dialogue” with the anti-woman bigots; Hillary Clinton wants abortions to be “rare.” The Democrats pose as friends of labor and the oppressed, while the Republicans openly flaunt their anti-union, racist, anti-gay, anti-woman, anti-immigrant program. Both parties carry out fundamentally the same policies, while the Democrats lie about it more.
Black Women and Abortion Rights
In his 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama talked about “the collapse of the two-parent black household” and lectured that to reduce poverty we have to “encourage teenage girls to finish high school and avoid having children out of wedlock.” This program for “change” is nothing more than labeling women who have children out of wedlock as deviants who breach the rule that women should remain monogamous, abstinent until marriage. The ruling class does not care about children or teenagers—look at the urban schools, where children are trained to walk through metal detectors, subjected to security guards, in sick preparation for populating the U.S. prisons.
The bourgeoisie has all kinds of mouthpieces. In 2006, Democrats Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton kicked off a three-day event in Dallas to mobilize the black vote. They said abortion has been used too much to block discussion of issues like voting rights and affirmative action, i.e., electing the next black Democrat. When the Hyde Amendment was passed, Jackson wrote an open letter congratulating Congress.
After years of having no position, in early 2004 the NAACP officially declared it was in favor of abortion rights, a stance it quietly rescinded months later after significant backlash, which included loss of conservative donors. Now the NAACP won’t officially take a stand one way or the other, despite efforts spearheaded by Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.’s niece, to get them to adopt an anti-abortion resolution. Alveda King outrageously argues that abortion is tantamount to genocide of the black race. Her blog has a link to a Web site, blackgenocide.org, dedicated to throwing black women back to a time prior to the legalization of abortion, when unwed women were subjected to all kinds of hell for getting pregnant.
Wake Up Little Susie, a book by Rickie Solinger, gives you a picture of what life was like for single pregnant black and white women prior to Roe v. Wade. She notes that in the late 1950s and early ’60s, “in every section of the country, state legislators either passed or tried to pass laws mandating substantial fines and prosecution, incarceration, and sterilization of women who ‘persisted’ in having children without being married.” She noted that some of those victimized were women who had gotten abortions. From 1945 to 1973 at least 1.5 million unwed mothers in the U.S. carried their fetus to term and gave the baby up for adoption, many finishing pregnancies secretly in maternity homes.
An unmarried black pregnant woman looking for help prior to Roe had even less options. In the 1950s, most maternity homes excluded blacks; state laws sought to exclude unmarried mothers from government assistance. Adoption, an option widely accessible to white mothers, was virtually unheard of for black unwed mothers: no one wanted to adopt a black baby. Solinger discussed the case of one black woman in Illinois who was arrested and charged with desertion when she tried to give her child up.
Black Women and the American Nightmare
It wasn’t until the 1940s that public money became available to unwed mothers and their children through the Aid to Dependent Children program. As many potential recipients were black, a campaign was launched against the black unmarried mother. White racist policy makers pointed to high rates of black “illegitimate” pregnancy, harked back to slavery’s racist myths about blacks’ uncontrollable sexuality and promiscuous childbearing and located the source of these alleged behaviors in biologically determined inferiority. This was later supported by the racist book The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein, which claims that social disparities stem from the higher fertility rates of genetically less intelligent groups, including black people. Such views reflect the origins of American capitalism, built on the backs of black chattel slaves.
The Clinton administration carried out a relentless campaign against poor and black women that went virtually unopposed by feminists and union “leaders.” In 1996, as part of his campaign to “end welfare as we know it,” Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which slashed benefits to the poorest people. The rulers play the race card to better “divide and rule.” Our perspective is to fight against the threat posed by slave-labor “workfare” by calling for jobs for all at union wages. We fight for the unions to organize the unorganized. This is the program to cut across the divisions between employed and unemployed, skilled and unskilled, and unionized and unorganized workers.
Today the fastest growing concentration of black women occurs not in the workforce but in the prisons. Much of this rise can no doubt be attributed to the “war on drugs.” Recently I read an interesting book on black women and contraception called Killing the Black Body, by Dorothy Roberts. In it she points out:
“Many Americans believe not only that Black mothers are likely to corrupt their children, but that Black children are predisposed to corruption. This trend is epitomized by the panic over ‘crack babies,’ Black infants irreparably damaged by the mothers’ use of crack during pregnancy.... Newspaper stories warned of a horde of Black children about to descend on inner-city kindergartens in need of high-cost special services. But the brain damage crack babies sustained was supposed to cut even deeper: lacking an innate social conscience, crack babies were destined to grow up to be criminals.”
Similarly, the Spartacist League argued 20 years ago that the “crack baby” hype was a bogus, racist campaign. Now even the New York Times admits as much.
In 1989, officials in Charleston, S.C., initiated a policy of arresting pregnant women whose prenatal tests revealed they were smoking crack. A team of police officers tracked down expectant mothers and raided maternity wards to haul away patients in handcuffs and leg irons hours after giving birth. Women remained shackled to their beds during the entire delivery. Shackling incarcerated women to their beds while in labor is still a practice in many states. Once the baby is born, the woman is allowed to bond in shackles.
We consider drug use, prostitution and gambling as “crimes without victims” and call for their decriminalization. The capitalist state’s criminalization of these activities has nothing to do with the welfare of society and everything to do with repressing the population. Drug use or addiction, depending on the circumstances, may be a health concern, but it should not be a crime.
Being black, poor and with little or no access to quality health care and contraception is a deadly combination for many. Black women represent 66 percent of new AIDS cases among women in the U.S. HIV infection is the leading cause of death among black women aged 25 to 34. In NYC there is a government program called HASA (the HIV/AIDS Services Administration), which helps provide housing for poor people living with AIDS. However, in order to qualify they must have AIDS—that is, their T-cell count has to have dropped below 200. So, in order to qualify, poor people living with HIV have been known to stop taking their antiretroviral medications, allowing their T-cells to drop just to get a roof over their head.
The fight against sexual, racial and all oppression is part of our fight for world socialist revolution. In the U.S., the call for black liberation through socialist revolution encapsulates our fight for a third American revolution, a workers revolution. The realization of the age-long dream of black freedom—that is, the complete smashing of the color bar—can occur only through the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism. In America, black working women suffer triple oppression: as women, as members of a race-color caste and as workers. The program for the emancipation of the black working woman is that program which enables the working class to forge a revolutionary internationalist party to lead the struggle to smash capitalist-imperialist rule.
Free, Quality Health Care for All!
In racist America, where jobs are getting harder and harder to come by, the forcible segregation of the black population at the bottom of society is wielded by the capitalist rulers as an effective club in holding back working-class struggle. Once serving as what Karl Marx called a reserve army of labor to be brought in during economic booms, under decaying capitalism blacks in the ghettos are now deemed to be a surplus population, an unprofitable mass not worth maintaining even at the most meager subsistence level. We fight for jobs for all, for a shorter workweek with no loss in pay, for national public work programs at union wages and unlimited unemployment benefits. We fight against all discrimination against minorities, women and gays and call for full citizenship rights for all immigrants.
The racist American rulers arrogantly presume that they can get away with starving the poor, killing the sick and aged and further impoverishing all of labor without provoking any social protest. But they cannot eliminate the class struggle, born of the irreconcilable conflict of interest between labor and capital. Scenes of gutted dwellings, devastated communities and ruined families are being multiplied across the country at a rate not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s. People cannot stand having no future for themselves or their kids, or feeling oppressed like slaves, with poverty, disease, no retirement benefits, no health care.
The strategy of the trade-union bureaucracy is to build an “alliance” with business, for example, over the question of health care reforms. The New York Times had an article about Dennis Rivera, an SEIU bureaucrat heading up their health care campaign. He is in alliance with Wal-Mart management and hospital administrators—the same ones who particularly here in New York cut the pay and pensions of the members of his own hospital union. Organizing Wal-Mart workers would do a lot for the entire working class; crawls for the Democrats in D.C. will do nothing. The labor movement has been deceived and betrayed by the labor traitors, who sacrifice workers on the altar of the capitalist private property system.
The Democrats’ posture as “friends” of working people makes them effective political representatives for enforcing the rule of a system based on exploitation and oppression. Restoring the profitability and competitive edge of U.S. imperialism, where health care costs are the highest and the health of the majority of the population the worst in the advanced industrialized countries, is the real name of Obama’s “health care reform” game. We fight for free, quality health care for all!
As Marx and Engels wrote in the Communist Manifesto, “Not only has the bourgeoisie forged the weapons that bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons—the modern working class—the proletarians.” The current situation cries out for a revival of labor struggle to stop the attacks on health and pension benefits. Virtually every strike in the past two decades has been over defense of such benefits. The labor movement would find many allies if it were to take up the fight for socialized medicine—the expropriation of the parasitic health care and drug companies, which are an immediate threat to the well-being of almost everyone in this country. But the fight for such demands directly poses the need for a political fight to oust the present sellout union tops and replace them with a class-struggle leadership.
Reformists Tail Capitalist Politicians
In NYC, when the news first broke of Dr. Tiller’s murder we looked for protests to participate in. But what pose as pro-abortion groups basically did nothing in response to his murder, mainly candlelight vigils. A doctor who performed third-trimester abortions was not a very popular cause among the pro-Democratic Party “pro-choice” organizations. Groups like N.O.W. and NARAL looked to the election of Obama as the key to defeating the anti-abortion bigots. You can barely get these groups to say “abortion” anymore, and forget about free abortion on demand.
As for the reformists, the Workers World Party (WWP) bemoans “the FBI’s lackadaisical approach to the arrest of anti-abortion terrorists” and writes, “Why haven’t there been serious, probing undercover investigations that could actually prevent these terrorist acts before they happen?” (workers.org, 11 June 2009). Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the capitalist state is a weapon of class oppression, whose purpose is to suppress the working class when it tries to defend itself. By pushing illusions in the neutrality of the capitalist state, WWP participates in all known ways in politically disarming the fight for women’s liberation and the liberation of all the oppressed.
The International Socialist Organization’s answer to everything is to build “the movement,” that is, cross-class coalitions. They complain: Bush got elected for a second term because the movement wasn’t strong enough, the war on Iraq continues because the movement did not come together, clinics and abortion doctors are defenseless against right-wing attack because the pro-choice movement has retreated. Well, the real purpose of the ISO’s “movement” was to get Obama elected, making it a movement that guarantees that nothing really changes. An article called “Defending Abortion Rights” by Sharon Smith in the ISO’s International Socialist Review (July-August 2009) notes that “entrusting politicians to defend legal abortion has proven a disaster for the pro-choice movement.” This is pretty rich coming from the ISO, which consistently runs campaigns to pressure and build platforms for capitalist politicians.
I was in Buffalo in the late 1990s when Dr. Slepian was killed and thousands turned out in protest. A sniper shot him through his kitchen window. WWP built a coalition to organize a protest of the murder. Their model of “stopping anti-woman and racist violence together” is building platforms for capitalist politicians such as Democrats and Greens. This particular coalition included local N.O.W. chapters campaigning for Chuck Schumer for Senator and for other Democrats.
At one point, one of the WWP organizers told me they were having difficulty appealing to the black community. I pointed out that for one thing, there was nothing addressing black people in their call or leaflet for the protest. She explained how the coalition was not in favor of “singling out racism” around this issue. But the killing of Dr. Slepian was a particular blow to the thousands of black and poor women with Medicaid seeking abortions in Buffalo, as he was the only abortion provider who accepted it. His clinic, situated in a predominantly poor black neighborhood, was frequented by white right-wing bigots with video cameras to intimidate the women and staff going in.
Not Feminism but Socialist Revolution Will Liberate Women
Despite the triple oppression that black women face in racist, sexist capitalist America, they have never been attracted in significant numbers to the “women’s liberation movement.” This in itself is not surprising: the petty-bourgeois feminism that dominates the “movement” has very little to offer working women—black or white—and has had as little success in recruiting poor white women as poor black ones. Communists vigorously fight for equal rights for women even under capitalism. But the promise of equal rights under capitalism means no more for working women than the “right” to be equally exploited instead of superexploited, to be merely a wage slave instead of “the slave of the slave.”
Feminism is a worldview counterposed to revolutionary Marxism. Feminists analyze society as gender-based rather than class-based. It is an anti-egalitarian ideology of bourgeois and petty-bourgeois women who support the capitalist system and seek their own power and privilege within it. American feminism has a particularly reactionary history, as many of its founders embraced white supremacy. Early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony opposed the 15th Amendment passed after the Civil War because it provided black freedmen the right to vote rather than white women.
Feminism views anti-woman ideology as just bad thinking and puts forward that what’s needed is to spread correct ideas and then maybe people will catch on and stop being bigots. Like black nationalism, feminism is a variant of sectoralism, which means that each oppressed group must organize separately. We oppose sectoralism, which denies the possibility of consciousness transcending an individual’s own experience of oppression. We fight to unite the vanguard of all oppressed social layers behind the proletariat in the struggle for socialism. A gross example of the cross-class unity pushed by feminists is the notion that you’re in sisterhood with Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice. Bourgeois feminism also perpetuates the false belief that things are getting better for women: Hillary had a shot at the presidency, look at all the Congresswomen, etc.
The truth is that this irrational, boom-bust capitalist profit system is obsolete and must be swept away through socialist revolution. The entry of women into the proletariat opens the way to liberation: their position at the point of production gives them the social power, along with their male co-workers, to smash the capitalist system and lay the basis for women’s emancipation through the abolition of class exploitation and the replacement of the institution of the family. As revolutionary Marxists—Trotskyists—we struggle to educate and organize the working class to fight in its own interests and those of all the oppressed, which is the only way it can break its chains.
We fight for the rebirth of the Fourth International, which stands for the emancipation of labor and the oppressed worldwide: Those who labor must rule! The struggle for the expropriation of the parasitic capitalist class is a life-and-death question. Join the fight to build a revolutionary international workers party, a Trotskyist party. For women’s liberation through socialist revolution!