Chapter 19: The Tasks Facing the New Women’s Movement

The massive Women’s Marches across the country in 2017 and 2018 are just one piece of powerful proof that Trump and the Republicans do not have a mandate for their hateful agenda. Large sections of society, and of women in particular, want to fight back against inequality and the corporate control of politics. Women have been at the forefront of all key movements of the last period, from fighting for a $15 minimum wage to the ongoing struggle against racist police murders. This is also why a majority of young women supported Bernie Sanders and his campaign’s call to fight the billionaire class. Likewise young women and men are excited by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, “democratic socialism”, Medicare for All and the Green New Deal. Despite Trump’s platform for hateful ideas, fierce movements of working-class women are on the horizon.

MeToo ignited a mass discussion about the need to end sexual harassment, in particular in our workplaces. And while the first year of the #MeToo moment was primarily expressed through online and interpersonal discussion, not through mass demonstrations, it already contained the power to take down high-profile abusers. For millions of ordinary women, this gave us confidence that our own abusers could also be confronted and to demand a world free of violence and harassment against women.

In late 2018, workers at some of the largest global corporations showed the way forward for bringing #MeToo into our workplaces and the potential for building class-based struggles against sexism. In fact, the growing labor upsurge in the U.S. has been spearheaded by heavily female workforces, including nurses and teachers. The teachers’ revolt in the spring of 2018 was also a revolt against years of a vicious and essentially sexist campaign that sought to blame teachers for society’s problems. The teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, and North Carolina rose up to defend themselves, their students, and their communities. Now the teacher revolt has continued into 2019 with major strikes in Los Angeles, Denver, and Oakland that are continuing to put corporate interests on the defensive.

As the right-wing continues to carry out attacks on women, LGBTQ people, people of color, immigrants, unions, and all working people, a new generation of activists have stepped forward and are actively looking for the best ways to fight back.

The backlash to Kavanaugh’s nomination shows the potential and need to develop the new women’s movement into a truly mass force that gives concrete expression to the broad mood to fight back against sexism and in defense of our rights. In addition, the outcome shows that the movement cannot rely on the Democratic Party’s willingness to take action. The movement, starting from taking on harassment in the workplace, must also take on all the issues that affect working-class women. It must fight for Medicare for all, fully funded education for all, affordable housing for all, and squarely take up each and every attack on working people.

While millions turned out in the 2018 midterm elections and voted for the Democrats as a way of pushing back against Trump and the Republican Party, a huge number also see the need for a new political force not beholden to corporate interests. At the same time there is a palpable mood in society to end sexism, racism, and the deep inequality which ravages our communities.

Learning the Lessons of Previous Struggles

In this short book we have laid a fair bit of stress on the previous struggles of women and working people generally. As Marxists we strongly believe that unless we learn the key lessons of historical experience we will be disarmed in the face of the challenges of today.

What is striking about the mass movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s, for example, is not the lack of determined struggle by millions of people, nor the lack of dedication and willingness to sacrifice by tens of thousands of young activists. All of this existed. What was lacking was a political force that could bring these forces together with a determined leadership and a clear program for a more decisive challenge to capitalism.

Such a force cannot, history shows, be constructed overnight. The basis has to be laid over an extended period of time. But at decisive moments enormous breakthroughs can be made and ideas that only appealed to thousands previously can suddenly win millions of supporters.

While the level of class struggle and social struggle generally in the U.S. over the past period has not reached the same intensity as in the late 60s and early 70s, we are clearly in a convulsive period characterized by profound political polarization and the loss of confidence in the institutions of capitalism. This reflects a deeper social crisis with large sections of the working class facing an increasingly precarious existence.

There is an opening to reshape politics not seen since the end of the Vietnam War, an opening not just to create a left party, rooted in struggle and based on the interests of working people, but also to develop a distinct revolutionary socialist trend in that party. Seizing this political opening is a key task which is directly connected to the development of a mass movement in workplaces, communities and on the streets.

Fighting for a Socialist World

Pro-corporate liberal feminism openly denies that capitalism is the underlying root of the problems facing by working class women and men. But as long as capitalism’s hold on society is constantly reproducing the oppression of women, we can’t fully dismantle sexism and create an equal world. This means building a movement independent from both corporate dominated political parties that can fight for tangible victories now while challenging the entire capitalist system, which requires inequality and oppression to survive.

Socialists believe that to ultimately achieve women’s liberation we need to build a new society. In fact we believe that women’s liberation and the socialist transformation of society are completely interlinked. Without a clear commitment to root out oppression the working class cannot unite to achieve its historic tasks.
Most importantly, we believe that this transformation is possible. Every successful struggle that we organize against right-wing attacks on women, LGBTQ people, immigrants, people of color, and unions and every reform we can win under capitalism builds confidence for working people to unite and fight for our liberation and an egalitarian socialist world.

For the new women’s movement to build and maintain serious momentum, we must put forward a class appeal to women, to men, and to society at large. Socialist feminism is defined – and strengthened – by its ability to explain how sexism functions as a tool of the ruling elite to maintain the oppression of the vast majority of working people. By identifying sexism as a function of divide-and-rule under capitalism, it points to a way forward to liberation – not only of women, but humanity as a whole.