Lynn Beaton 1987
International Women’s Day
Defend the Gains of October
International Women’s Day every year poses the question of the resolution of the struggles of working class women around the world for their emancipation.
This year we can assume a greater confidence than has been possible for some time, for the Workers Revolutionary Party’s call for an International conference of Trotskyist organisations promises to begin to resolve the crisis of the leadership of the Fourth international and therefore of the international working class.
This week’s Workers Press presents a feature on the relevance of the international call to the struggles of women against their double oppression.
International Women’s Day is also an appropriate time to report a successful nurses’ strike in Victoria, Australia which challenged the restraining ‘Accord’ between the federal and state Labour governments and the trade union bureaucracy which has tied the hands of the Australian working class for three years.
This year as the Workers Revolutionary Party celebrates International Women’s Day we are deeply involved in preparations for an international conference to build the Fourth International. The two are integrally linked, for International Women’s Day is the celebration of the past struggles of women workers and a time to look forward to the future and the end of our double oppression
An international conference, called to discuss the responsibilities of all Trotskyist organisations in resolving the continuing crisis of the Fourth International is the first step towards developing an international Trotskyist leadership capable of leading the world working class to victory.
Throughout history the struggles of women to throw off their double oppression has been an important part of the struggles of the world working class towards the overthrow of capitalism.
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The call for this conference was made possible by the split in the Workers Revolutionary Party and the International Committee which began with the exposure of Healy’s sexual abuse of women comrades.
This split has opened up new possibilities for resolving internationally the crisis of working class leadership. It has at once exposed the depth and nature of the crisis in the Fourth International and created the conditions for overcoming that crisis.
One of the first areas of political degeneration detected was the denial in theory and practice of the double oppression of women by the International Committee.
The results of the refusal to struggle with this question are only too painfully evident. But it is no coincidence that the repression of women within the Workers Revolutionary Party, a mirroring of some of the worst manifestations of bourgeois repression, was central to the explosion.
Nor is it coincidental that the gains made for women by the Bolshevik Revolution were among the first of the gains of that revolution to be destroyed by the Stalinist regime.
When struggling to build the Fourth International one of the important aspects of that work is the defence of all the gains of the Bolshevik Revolution. This involves the most bitter struggle against Stalinism and all those tendencies who capitulate to its pressure.
We must see the refusal of the International Committee to take up the struggle against women’s oppression in this light. It was a refusal to defend the gains of the Russian proletariat against the attacks which had been waged against them by Stalinism.
We base the call for an international conference of Trotskyists on the resolutions and theses of the first four Congresses of the Third International.
The Comintern ‘Theses on Work Amongst Women’ state clearly the importance of work with women.
‘The Third Congress of the Comintern in conjunction with the Second International Women’s Congress confirms the decision of the First and Second Congresses on the necessity for increasing the work of all the Communist parties of the East and West among proletarian women.
‘The masses of women workers must be educated in the spirit of Communism and so drawn into the struggle for Soviet Power and into the construction of the Soviet Labour Republic. In all countries the working classes, and consequently the women workers, are faced with the problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat.’
The Theses make it clear to those who believe that the oppression of women can be alleviated through a struggle which shirks the decisive question of class rule that it is only through the struggle of the great working class that the basis for an end to women’s oppression will be laid.
‘So long as the power of government is in the hands of the bourgeois class, the proletariat has no power to organise production.
‘No reforms, no measures, carried out by the democratic or socialistic governments of the bourgeois countries are able to save the situation.
‘They cannot alleviate the sufferings of the working women and working men.’
The Theses make it equally clear to all those who think that this issue is not fundamental to the achievement of our goal that they are mistaken.
‘... the Third Congress of the Communist International maintains that the conquest of power by the proletariat, as well as the achievement of Communism in those countries where the capitalist state has already been overthrown, can be realised only with the active participation of the wide masses of the proletarian and semi-proletarian women.
‘The interest of the working class, especially at the present moment, imperatively demands the recruiting of women into the organised ranks of the proletariat, fight for Communism.’
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Making clear the international nature of the problem, section 6 of the Theses says:
‘Woman’s struggle against her double oppression (capitalism and her home and family subservience), at its highest stage of development, assumes an international character, becoming identified with the struggle of the proletariat of both sexes under the banner of the Third International for the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviet system.’
The second principle for our call to the international conference is the Transitional Programme and the Founding Conference of the Fourth International.
This document should have been a lesson to the WRP in its degeneration when it says:
‘Opportunist organisations by their very nature concentrate their chief attention on the top layers of the working class and therefore ignore both the youth and the woman worker.
‘The decay of capitalism, however, deals its heaviest blows to the woman as a wage- earner and as a housewife.
‘The sections of the Fourth International should seek bases of support among the most exploited layers of the working class; consequently, among the women workers. Here they will find inexhaustible stores of devotion, selflessness and readiness to sacrifice.’
The third principle is the theory of permanent revolution and this too must be applied to women workers whose double oppression means their fight involves bringing their relationship to the means of production to the same level as men’s, whilst at the same time fighting for the communist revolution which alone will bring the emancipation of women.
However as we develop our programmes and strategies to fight for that revolution it is important that we develop a programme of work with women which includes the minimum, transitional and maximum demands necessary to fight their double oppression.
It is equally important to give leadership within the ‘women’s movement’ which is dominated by bourgeois feminist ideology and Stalinism, both of which try to stifle the revolutionary surge of women by arguing that the plight of women must be ‘reformed’ within capitalism, before we can fight for the socialist revolution.
A vital principle of our call is the defence of the conquests of the 1917 October Revolution.
As mentioned earlier, the gains made for the emancipation of women by this revolution were considerable and were among the first to be destroyed by the Stalinists.
Describing these gains in ‘Revolution Betrayed’ Trotsky said:
‘The October revolution honestly fulfilled its obligations in relation to woman.
‘The young government not only gave her all political and legal rights in equality with man, but, what is more important, did all that it could, and in any case incomparably more than any other government ever did, actually to secure her access to all forms of economic and cultural work.’
Recognising that many of the burdens faced by women arose from the role as bearer and carer of children, the revolution made this task a social responsibility and established state services to free women from the sole burden. Trotsky describes:
‘The place of the family as a shut-in petty enterprise was to be occupied, according to the plans, by a finished system of social care and accommodation: maternity houses, creches, kindergartens, schools, hospitals, sanatoria, athletic organisations, moving- picture theaters, etc.
‘The complete absorption of the housekeeping functions of the family by institutions of the socialist society, uniting all generations in solidarity and mutual aid, was to bring to woman, and thereby to the loving couple, a real liberation from the thousand-year-old fetters.’
This was an enormous task, and necessarily needed a great deal of experimentation to find appropriate social re-organisation.
Before it was very far under way, the Stalinist bureaucracy was reversing the process. At first it undertook a conscious policy to run down the communal kitchens, laundries etc., so that men and women preferred to return to own domestic hearth. Trotsky described :
‘But home-cooking and the home washtub, which are now half shamefacedly celebrated by orators and journalists, mean the return of the workers’ wives to their pots and pans – that is, to the old slavery.
‘It is doubtful if the resolution of the Communist International on the “complete and irrevocable triumph of socialism in the Soviet Union” sounds very convincing to the women of the factory districts!’
One of the first acts to liberate women was legalising abortion and in a sense this issue is symbolic of the regime’s attitudes.
With the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy abortion was once again made illegal. The state took the official position that women have no right to decline ‘the joys of motherhood’ in a society which has no unemployment.
In other words women have no rights over their own reproductive activity, they are merely instruments of the state.
The rehabilitation of the family began with attacks on abortion and quickly became a nauseating reflection of the cloistered sentimentality which the bourgeoisie of all countries forces on the working classes.
Trotsky was so horrified by this process he said: ‘the leaders are forcing people to glue together again the shell of the broken family, and not only that,’ but to consider it, under threat of extreme penalties, the sacred nucleus of triumphant socialism.
‘It is hard to measure with the eye the scope of this retreat.’
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On this International Women’s Day as we look forward to rebuilding the Fourth International we are taking up the struggle to defend the gains made by women in the Russian Revolution.
In doing so we also take up the struggle against the betrayals of the Stalinists in their misleadership of thousands of women who have come forward over the last 20 years to fight for their emancipation.
Steered away from revolutionary politics by Stalinism many of these women have been misled into fighting a gender battle instead of a class one.
We look forward to the resolution of women’s struggle against their double oppression with the victory of the world revolution and urge women to take this fight into the revolutionary movement and join with us in building the Fourth International.
First Published: Workers Press, Saturday March 7 1987, p. 4.