October 18, 2018

Which Road to Women’s Liberation?
By Catherine Tlapek, Seattle



I am reporting on Clara Fraser’s “Which Road to Women’s Liberation: A Radical Vanguard or a Single-issue Coalition?”

Clara Fraser was a founder of Radical Women and a real groundbreaker on socialist feminism thinking and organizing. Though this pamphlet was written in 1973 as a Radical Women position paper, I believe it is relevant to women’s activism today, as we protest the confirmation of a new supreme court justice who does not represent us, yet has power to oppress us for as long as he lives. Radical Woman comrade Sarah S. pointed out at a recent rally that this confirmation of an abusive man to this position of power shows that the Supreme Court is an undemocratic institution. Despite massive protests, this confirmation went ahead, so now what do we do to change this system so we can achieve real equality?

There are four main points to Clara’s pamphlet that Radical Women agreed were foundational to their work as leaders in the feminist movement:

1. Women’s liberation can only be attained by a movement of radical women.

2. The woman question has a dual and triple nature, and is therefore a multi-issue question.

3. Our tactic for mass action is the united front.

4. The supportive or affinity-group character of a women’s liberation organization should be a result and effect of its primarily political nature, rather than its central reason for existence.

I believe these four points still apply in today’s feminist movement.

The first point, that only a movement of radical women can attain women’s liberation, is clear when we look at our current status in society. We are still the lowest paid workers. The capitalist system still controls and profits from our bodies and our labor, and this oppression is worldwide. Clara Fraser points out that the original feminist leaders of the 19th and early 20th centuries were radical thinkers, many of whom attacked the capitalist system and worked toward socialism.

Unfortunately, the mainstream feminists do not believe this capitalist system needs to be upended. These feminists cannot be radical because they support the system. They turn to capitalists for funding. They cheer and party with the capitalists when they give us crumbs of reforms. Mainstream feminists claim that women are making strides to liberation because we can do such things as: vote or run as Rebublicrats or edit fancy magazines, serve on the Board of Walmart or drive our cars. Though I have nothing against driving cars, I see these mainstream feminists as misleaders driving us into a cul-de-sac of reforms that won’t revolutionize our world and get us to equality.

We must have a feminist leadership core that is radical to organize, as Clara says, “through every mobilization and on every issue”, and to “steadily work to radicalize the entire movement and expand the vanguard itself.” As an organization, Radical Women has retained this critical view of capitalism and push for socialism.

Now to the second point, the dual or triple nature of the women question. I will quote again from Clara Fraser:

“The very nature of our struggle has a special, unique and massive character which renders it strategically decisive in any mobilization of revolutionary forces.”

As a multi-issue movement, we can stand in defense of our reproductive rights and insist that all our health needs are met, including those of us who are POC and LGBT and disabled. As a multi-issue movement, we can stand for our labor rights and those of all workers in the world. As a multi-issue movement, we can stand to defend women against violence, including the violence that is directed by police against women of color, indigenous people, and immigrants. As a multi-issue movement, we can stand with poor women against the state’s brutal welfare cuts. As a multi-issue movement, we can stand with the indigenous for their environmental rights. As a multi-issue movement, we can organize against the capitalists’ property rights that continue to push more and more people into the streets, without shelter and care.

Yet, as a single-issue movement, women cannot make the bridge between these necessary things! The capitalists pit us against each other, throwing us into a pit with a donkey and an elephant, and tell us that is all we get! We’re asked to “get out the vote” for the donkey, but both the donkey and the elephant will leave us in this pit. The capitalists want us to believe we can’t have it all, while they keep everything. Reforms of capitalism may keep us alive to work and organize for revolution, but they are certainly not enough!

On the other hand, as a multi-issue movement, women can become part of the mass world-wide revolutionary force that is necessary to overthrow this racist sexist homophobic patriarchal capitalist system!

To the third point, the united front as tactic.

The united front is an organizing tool for massive action and raising mass consciousness. It is led by working-class groups and individuals. It is democratic in structure. Groups and individuals agree on why they come together, but do not have to agree on every issue or sacrifice principles and ideas in the name of unity.

As Clara Fraser points out, we must use this tactic on a principled basis:

”We refuse to dilute the united front into a classless, counterrevolutionary people’s front which hands power over to the liberal bourgeoisie and glorifies reformism as preferable to revolutionary solutions.

“We do engage in the united front as long as it is productive and [we] remain ever ready to go it alone should its programmatic integrity and methods become compromised.”

The united front as a tactic can be used for many issues, from working together for reproductive rights, defense of labor rights, against war, for civil rights, or against fascism, etc.

In the 1980s and 90s, Radical Women co-founded the United Front against Fascism. Others here tonight were involved in that work, though I unfortunately was not involved. I believe that due to the rise of fascist violence, a united front is now necessary again to help defend the many groups who are being targeted by the fascists. Radical Women is working with other groups to explore and build a united front.

We’ve recently been involved with organizing with anti-fascist groups, with actions against Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys.

Radical Women has long worked to defend women’s reproductive rights locally and internationally, acting to support Clinic Defense, and sending our solidarity to the women of Ireland and Argentina as they work for their rights. From protesting the anti-union Freedom Foundation, to working with Seattle Silence Breakers to organize against sex harassment in the workplace, we work for our labor rights.

And finally, the fourth point in Clara’s pamphlet:

“The supportive or affinity-group character of a women’s liberation organization should be a result and effect of its primarily political nature, rather than its central reason for existence.”

As I’ve become involved with Radical Women, I’ve seen that it is as we work together organizing around these many multi-issues, working to advance and expand this revolutionary socialist feminist movement that we learn to trust and give each other mutual critical respect.

Reading this pamphlet has clarified to me why I’ve joined with Radical Women, and inspires me to continue this work. I hope that this pamphlet inspires you, too.

So, where do we go from here?! I look forward to hearing your thoughts in discussion.