The Democratic Socialist Party and the struggle for women's liberation

As the 20th century draws to an end, humanity faces the threat of unprecedented ecological catastrophe which puts in jeopardy the future of life on Earth. How to prevent such a catastrophe and to build a society in which this situation is resolved is not a matter of simply looking at the symptoms-the surface manifestations of this crisis-but requires an understanding of the social causes behind them. 

Society and nature are not bipolar opposites. They are an inter-related whole. Measures that address only one aspect will not effectively provide solutions to this whole. Solutions to environmental problems will not succeed unless they also address basic human needs, and these in turn cannot be met unless the oppressed, who constitute the vast majority of humanity, are freed from the oppression imposed on them by class society. This can only be achieved through a radical restructuring of society to ensure that society's productive capacity is placed under its democratic control and directed toward meeting the rational needs of all its members, rather than the private enrichment of a tiny propertied minority at the expense of the working majority. 

Such a solution is not one that can be imposed from above. Freedom from oppression can only be forged by the oppressed themselves consciously struggling together to overthrow their oppressors. Such a struggle takes many forms and will require a complex system of alliances in order to overcome the divisions fostered by class society among the oppressed and weld them into a powerful, united movement. It will be only through the establishment of such alliances and the experience of joint actions that the oppressed majority can, by democratic means, map out and implement a common strategy to achieve a society free of oppression and exploitation. 

The perspective of the Democratic Socialist Party is to help to build such alliances with other progressive forces and individuals in order to help mobilise the broadest numbers of people in the struggle for radical social change. Our goal is to build the confidence of the masses to rely on their own united power, rather than delegate their struggle to others. Parliament and other institutions of bourgeois democracy can be used to publicise our ideas. But we counterpose extra-parliamentary mass action-marches, rallies, strikes, public meetings-to reliance on elections, lobbying, parliaments, and the capitalist politicians who haunt them. 

The independent women's liberation movement

The oppression of women as a sex constitutes the objective basis for the mobilisation of women in struggle through their own organisations. We support and help build the independent women's liberation movement. 

By the women's movement we mean all the women who organise themselves at one level or another to struggle against the oppression imposed on them by this society. 

The women's movement is characterised by its heterogeneity, its penetration into all layers of society, and the fact that it is not tied to any particular political organisation, even though various currents are active within it. Moreover, some groups and action coalitions, though led and sustained by women, are open to men as well, such as the National Organisation for Women in the United States and the National Abortion Campaign in Britain. 

While most women's groups initially developed separately outside the organisations of the labor and other social movements, the deepening radicalisation has led more and more women to find ways to organise themselves within these organisations. This has led to an increased activity of women inside the trade unions, peace committees, environmental coalitions, committees for international solidarity, etc., as well as organising independently as women around their own demands. 

By independent we mean that the movement is organised and led by women; that it takes the fight for women's rights and needs as its first priority, refusing to subordinate that fight to any other interests; that it is not subordinate to the decisions or policy needs of any political party or any other social group since the movement must be open to all women who wish to fight against their oppression; and that it is willing to carry through the fight by whatever means and together with whatever forces prove necessary. 

Clearly, not every group within the movement measures up to those criteria fully or equally but that is the direction in which the movement will evolve if it is to be successful. 

We fight to keep women's liberation organisations and struggles independent of all bourgeois forces and parties. We oppose attempts to channel women's independent struggles into the construction of women's caucuses inside of, or oriented, to capitalist parties or bourgeois politics, as has occurred in the United States, Canada and Australia. 

We oppose the formation of a women-only political party, such as arose in Belgium and has been advocated by some feminist groups in Spain and elsewhere. All such attempts politically limit the political heterogeneity of the women's movement as well as its range and impact. At best it will represent the interests of only one strand of the movement and it will divert the movement from the need to mobilise broad layers of women in struggle and from the alliances the movement will need to forge. The election of more women to public office on a reformist program, while a reflection of changing attitudes, will not radically transform the basis of women's oppression-at best it can only clarify the limitations of reforms in class society. 

Women-only groups

The dominant organisational form of the women's movement has been all-female groups. These have emerged in virtually all arenas from the schools and churches to the factories and trade unions. This expresses the determination of women to take the leadership of their own organisations in which they can learn and develop and lead without fear of being put down or dictated to by men or having to compete with them from the start. 

Before women can lead others they must throw off their feelings of inferiority and self-deprivation. They must learn to lead themselves. Feminist groups that consciously and deliberately exclude men help many women to take the first steps toward discarding their own slave mentality, gaining confidence, pride and courage to act as political beings. 

But the decision to form such women-only groups within mass movements, trade unions and even bourgeois parties is a tactical decision determined by how best to raise awareness of women's oppression within that organisation and how best to develop the struggle to have women's demands addressed. Often the formation of women-only subgroups or caucuses can allow the leadership of the organisation to pay lip service to women's equality while in practice marginalising its importance. 

The small "consciousness raising" groups that have sprung up everywhere as one of the most prevalent forms of the second wave of radicalisation have provided the first step to help many women realise that their problems do not arise from personal shortcomings, but are socially created and common to other women. They lay the groundwork for women to break out of their isolation for the first time, to gain confidence, and to move into action. 

But if they remain inward-turned and limit themselves to discussion circles as a substitute for joining with others to act, they can become an obstacle to the further political development of the women involved. 

To those who claim women-only groups divide the working class along sex lines, we say it is not those who are fighting against their oppression who are responsible for creating or maintaining divisions. Capitalism divides society-by class, by race, by sex, by age, by nationality, by skill levels and by every other means possible. Our task is to help organise and support the battles of the oppressed who seek to overcome these divisions and the exploitation on which they rest. 

Our commitment to women's liberation

The DSP welcomes and supports the development of the movement for the liberation of women. We base this commitment on the following considerations: 

a. The oppression of women emerged with the transition from preclass to class society. It is indispensable to the maintenance of class society in general and capitalism in particular. Therefore, struggles by masses of women against their oppression is a form of struggle against capitalist rule. 

b. Women are both a significant component of the working class, and a potentially powerful ally of the working class in the struggle to overthrow capitalism. Without a socialist revolution, women cannot establish the preconditions for their liberation. Without the mobilisation of masses of women in struggle for their own liberation, the working class cannot accomplish its historic tasks. The destruction of the bourgeois state, the eradication of capitalist property, the transformation of the economic bases and priorities of society, the consolidation of a new state power based on the democratic organisation of the working class and its allies, and the continuing struggle to eliminate all forms of oppressive social relations inherited from class society-all this can ultimately be accomplished only with the conscious participation and leadership of an independent women's liberation movement. 

c. All women are oppressed as women. Struggles around specific aspects of women's oppression necessarily involve women from different classes and social layers. Even some bourgeois women, revolting against their oppression as women, can break with their class and be won to the side of the revolutionary workers movement as the road to liberation. 

d. While all women are oppressed, the effects of that oppression are different for women of different classes. Those who suffer the greatest economic exploitation are generally those who also suffer the most from their oppression as women. 

e. While all women are affected by their oppression as women, the mass women's liberation movement we are trying to build will be basically working-class in composition, orientation and leadership. Only such a movement will be able to mobilise the majority of women and play a progressive role under conditions of sharpening class polarisation. 

f. Struggles by women against their oppression as a sex are interrelated with, but not totally dependent on or identical with, struggles by workers as a class. Women cannot win their liberation except in alliance with a revolutionary mobilisation of the organised power of the working class. 

But this historical necessity in no way means that women should postpone any of their struggles until the current labor officialdom is replaced by a revolutionary leadership that picks up the banner of women's liberation. Nor should women wait until the socialist revolution has created the material basis for ending their oppression. On the contrary, women fighting for their liberation must wait for no-one to show them the way. They should take the lead in opening the fight and carrying it forward. In doing so they will play a leadership role within the workers movement as a whole, and can help create the kind of leadership necessary to advance on all fronts. 

g. Sexism is one of the most powerful weapons utilised by the ruling class to divide and weaken the working class and the progressive movements. But it does not simply divide men against women. Its conservatising weight cuts across sex lines, affecting both men and women. 

Its hold is rooted in the class character of society itself, and the manifold ways in which bourgeois ideology is inculcated in every individual from birth. The bosses pit each section of the working class against all others. They promote the belief that women's equality can only be achieved at the expense of men-by taking men's jobs away from them, by lowering their wages, and by depriving them of domestic comforts. The reformist bureaucracy of the labor movement, of course, also plays upon these divisions to maintain its control. 

Educating the masses of people, male and female, through propaganda, agitation, and action around the needs of women is an essential part of the struggle to break the stranglehold of reactionary bourgeois ideology. It is an indispensable part of the politicisation and revolutionary education of the progressive movements. 

h. The full power and united strength of the working class can only be realised as the workers' movement begins to overcome its deep internal divisions. This will only be achieved as the workers come to understand that those at the top of the wage-scale do not owe their relative material advantages to the fact that others are discriminated against and specially oppressed. Rather it is the bosses who profit from such stratification and division. 

The class interests of all workers are identical with the needs and demands of the most oppressed and exploited layers of the class-the women, the oppressed nationalities, the immigrant workers, the youth, the unorganised, the unemployed. The women's movement has a particularly important role to play in helping the working class to understand this truth. 

i. Winning the organised labor movement to fight for the demands of women is part of educating the working class to think socially and act politically. 

j. The struggle against the oppression of women is not a secondary or peripheral issue. It is a life-and-death matter, especially in a period of sharpening class polarisation. 

Because women's place in class society generates many deep-seated insecurities and fears, and because the ideology that buttresses women's inferior status still retains a powerful hold, women are a particular target for all clerical, reactionary and fascist organisations. Whether it be the Festival of Light, the National Party, the Klu Klux Klan, the fundamentalist religions, the opponents of abortion rights, or even sections of the women's movement itself, reaction makes a special appeal to women for support, claiming to address women's particular needs, glorifying their "essential" difference, taking advantage of their economic dependence under capitalism, and promising to relieve the inordinate burden women bear during any period of social crisis. 

From the "Kinder-Kirche-Kueche" propaganda of the Nazi movement to the Christian Democrats' mobilisation of middle-class women in Chile for the march of the empty pots in 1973, history has demonstrated the mystique of motherhood-and-family is one of the most powerful conservatising weapons wielded by the ruling class. 

Chile once again tragically showed that if the workers movement fails to put forward and fight for a program and revolutionary perspective answering the needs of masses of women, many middle-class and even working-class women will either be mobilised on the side of reaction, or neutralised as potential supporters. 

The objective changes in women's economic and social role, the new radicalisation of women and the changes in consciousness and attitudes this has brought about, make it more difficult for reaction to prevail. This is a new source of revolutionary optimism. 

k. While the victorious revolution can create the material foundations for the socialisation of domestic labor and lay the basis for the complete economic and social equality of women, this socialist reconstruction of society, placing all human relations on a new foundation, will not be accomplished immediately or automatically. 

During the period of transition to socialism, the fight to eradicate all forms of oppression inherited from class society will continue. For example, the social division of labor into feminine and masculine tasks must be eliminated in all spheres of activity from daily life to the factories. Decisions will have to be made concerning the allocation of scarce resources. An economic plan that reflects the social needs of women, and provides for the most rapid possible socialisation of domestic tasks, will have to be developed. 

The continuing independent organisation of women will be a precondition for democratically arriving at satisfactory economic and social decisions. Thus, even after the revolution, the independent women's liberation movement will play an indispensable role in assuring the ability of the majority of humanity, male and female, to carry this process through to a successful conclusion. 

Essential demands

While the totality of the system of demands put forward by the DSP-which deal with every issue from freedom of political association, to unemployment and inflation, to workers' control of production and the need for a working people's government-are in the interests of the working class, and are thus in the interests of the great majority of women, we also put forward demands that speak to the specific oppression of women. 

The DSP seeks to convince the women's liberation movement to struggle for demands directed against those responsible for the economic and social conditions in which women's oppression is rooted-the capitalist class, its government and agencies. In fighting for these demands, masses of women will come to understand the interrelationship of their oppression as victims of class rule. 

While the oppression of women is institutionalised through the family system, the family as an economic unit cannot be "abolished." It can only be replaced over time. Our goal is to create economic and social alternatives that are superior to the present family institution and better able to provide for the needs currently met, however poorly, by the family, so that personal relationships will be a matter of free choice and not of economic compulsion. 

The specific demands we advocate be taken up by the movement at any particular time will depend on the situation facing the movement and the general level of struggle. While no exhaustive list of demands can be presented, it is necessary to indicate the main themes necessary to sharpen and develop the struggle for women's liberation: 

a. The right of women to control their own bodies.

It must be the sole right of each woman to decide whether or not to prevent or terminate pregnancy. All anti-abortion laws should be repealed. Abortion should be available to all on demand regardless of age, in the venue of their choice-in a specialised clinic or within the public hospital system, with information and support services available. The cost should be fully covered by a universal health-care system. 

Safe reliable contraceptives for both women and men should be freely available to anyone wanting them. State-financed birth control and sex education centres should be set up in schools, neighborhoods, hospitals and large workplaces. 

The right of reproductive freedom includes the right of a woman to bear children if she chooses. Programs to help women conceive should be available to any woman who freely chooses to participate in such a program without coercion, regardless of sexual preference. Full information and support systems should be available. 

Sterilisation without a woman's consent, or the use of pressure to obtain her consent, should be outlawed. This includes the rejection of population-control schemes which are tools of racism or class prejudice. 

There should be an end to all medical and drug experimentation on women without their full, informed consent. 

b. Full legal, political, and social equality for women.

There should be no discrimination on the basis of gender. Women should have the right to vote, engage in public activity, form or join political associations, live and travel where they want, engage in any occupations they choose. All laws and regulations with special penalties for women should be eliminated and all the democratic rights won by men should be extended to women. 

Laws that discriminate against women's right to receive and dispose of their own wages and property should be abolished. Women should have equal access to unemployment benefits regardless of age and marital status. 

The stigma of the concept of "illegitimacy" must be eradicated. This involves an end to all discrimination against unwed mothers and their children and an end to the prison-like conditions that govern special centres set up to take care of single mothers and other women who have nowhere else to go. Special centres, run by the women using them, should be established to provide information, emotional support and retraining opportunities. 

c. The right of women to economic independence and equality. 

This includes the right to full-time employment at a nationally based living wage, coupled with a sliding scale of hours and wages to combat inflation and unemployment among women and men. 

Women should be paid equal wages with one rate for the job and encouraged to enter non-traditional occupations. There should be a revaluing of traditional female occupations through comparative worth assessment with those traditional male occupations requiring similar levels of skill and the raising of women's wages accordingly. Discrimination against women in training and retraining programs and in promotional opportunities must be eliminated. 

We support paid parental leave and the continuity of job seniority during such leave. Beneficial protective legislation providing special working conditions to women should be extended to men in order to improve the working conditions for all workers and to prevent the use of such measures as pretexts for discrimination against women. 

Part-time workers should be guaranteed the same hourly wages and benefits as full-time workers. 

Affirmative action programs, with legally enforced provisions, are essential to redress the effects of decades of systematic discrimination in hiring, training and promotion. To overcome existing imbalances, preferential treatment must be accorded to women in hiring, training, job upgrading, and seniority adjustments. 

The rearing, social welfare, and education of children to be seen as the responsibility of society, rather than the sole burden of individual parents. Abolition of all laws granting parents property rights and total control over their children. Strict laws against child abuse. 

Cheap and conveniently available childcare services are essential to this process. A program is urgently needed to create a network of free, government-financed childcare centres in every neighborhood and at large workplaces. Such centres should be open around the clock and be able to cater for all children from infancy to adolescence. 

Women will not be able to enjoy genuine equality as long as they are forced to bear the main burden of domestic work. This is a socially created problem that demands a social solution. This would include the socialisation of domestic services through the creation of a network of easily accessible, low-cost, high-quality public laundries, cafeterias and restaurants, house-cleaning services organised on an industrial basis, etc. 

d. Equal educational opportunities.

The present education system discriminates against women at all levels, from preschool to postgraduate. There must be an end to sex stereotyping in educational textbooks, an end to channeling of students into supposedly male and female subjects, and to all forms of pressure on female students to prepare themselves for so-called women's work (homemaking, nursing, teaching and clerical work). 

Special preferential admissions programs should be introduced to encourage women to enter traditionally male-dominated fields and learn skills and trades from which they have previously been excluded. Special education and refresher courses should be set up to aid women re-entering the job market along non-sexist lines. 

e. The right of women to freedom from sexual violence and exploitation.

Sexist violence is a daily reality that all women experience in some form or another. Any law, secular or religious, sanctioning penalties, physical abuse, or even murder of wives, sisters, and daughters for so-called crimes against male "honor" has to be abolished. 

Violence against women is a vicious product of the general social and economic conditions of class society. It inevitably increases during periods of social crisis. The capitalist mass media and advertising create a social climate that fosters sexual violence and harassment by portraying women as sex objects. These images also create insecurities among women about their self image, and combined with cultural images of women's sexuality and traditions of beauty, can lead to various forms of mutilation of women and girls, or self-abuse. 

Many, including some feminists, advocate censorship of these images of sexual violence as the way to eradicate the violence itself but this only drives it underground and onto the black market, away from public view. What is needed is a massive education campaign to counter this debased view of women, promoted by the government in collaboration with the women's movement. Positive images of women need to replace the negative debased images. 

Laws against sexual harassment of women should be strengthened and strictly enforced. 

Increasing reported incidence of rape, incest, wife-bashing and sexual assault on children reveal the need for a massive increase in the provision of facilities for the victims of such abuse. Such facilities must be independent of the courts and the police, both of which see their role as to enforce the status quo. 

All laws that require physical corroboration of sexual assault or evidence of physical injury, or which imply blame on the part of the female rape victim, should be repealed. Questioning of sexual assault victims about their past sexual activity should be prohibited. 

Prostitution is also a product of the general social and economic conditions of class society, in particular, poverty and the restrictions placed on women gaining skills and access to productive employment. Prostitutes should not be treated as criminals. All laws victimising prostitutes should be repealed. 

f. Against the suppression of human sexuality.

Class society distorts all human relations by transforming social interaction into relationships between property owners. This applies not only to human cooperation in production, but also to all other social relations, including sexual relations. For this reason, the party stands for complete non-interference of the state and society in sexual matters, so long as nobody is injured or coerced. 

This general principle means that all sexual relations between women or between men should be treated in exactly the same way as sexual relations between men and women, and this should be reflected in law in regard to marriages and de facto relationships. Sexual preference should be recognised as a matter of individual choice, a basic democratic right. 

The oppression and persecution of lesbians and gay men is a by-product of the oppression of women, a result of the ruling class's need to maintain the stability of the family system by restricting all sexual activity except for purposes of procreation within the family. Homosexuality represents a challenge to the ideology through which the capitalist class tries to shore up the family system. The fight against lesbian and gay oppression is thus part of the class struggle against capitalism. 

The party demands the repeal of all anti-homosexual laws, the outlawing of discrimination against gays and lesbians in employment, housing, child custody and an end to police harassment on the streets, in bars, etc. In addition, sex education for young people and the broader community should stress the variety of non-coercive sexual relations that exists, without moral judgment or preference. 

All these demands indicate the breadth and pervasiveness of women's oppression. The struggle against this oppression-for women's liberation-will require the total reorganisation of society. Unless such a thoroughgoing restructuring of society's productive and reproductive institutions takes place to maximise social welfare, no truly human existence will be established for all.