We Seek Full Equality for Women

claudia-jones

Introduction by Carole Boyce Davies: We (Still) Seek Full Equality!

As we com­mem­o­rate Clau­dia Jones’s 100th birth­day this year, it is fit­ting to repo­si­tion one of her most influ­en­tial essays, “We Seek Full Equal­i­ty for Wom­en” (1949). Given cur­rent and ongo­ing dis­cours­es about lin­ger­ing inequal­i­ty for sev­er­al sub­or­di­nat­ed groups in the Unit­ed States and Europe, the mantra of “still seek­ing full equal­i­ty” res­onates in chants like “Black Lives Mat­ter” and in the activism of LGBTQ groups. And indeed wom­en are still seek­ing full equal­i­ty in all fields and spheres of life.

Jour­nal­ist, edi­tor, intel­lec­tu­al-activist, com­mu­nist the­o­rist, com­mu­ni­ty lead­er and human rights advo­cate Clau­dia Vera Cum­ber­batch Jones (1915-1964) was born Feb­ru­ary 21, 1915 in Trinidad and Tobago. After years of mem­ber­ship begin­ning as a teenager, she became the only black wom­an on the cen­tral com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty USA and Sec­re­tary of the Women’s com­mis­sion in 1947. In that role, she orga­nized women’s groups across the Unit­ed States and wrote a Women’s Rights column titled “Half the World” for The Dai­ly Work­er. A speech titled “Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day and the Strug­gle for Peace” deliv­ered on Inter­na­tion­al Women’s Day in 1950 was cit­ed as the “overt act” which led to her arrest, tri­al, con­vic­tion, and impris­on­ment for being a com­mu­nist in the Unit­ed States. In Decem­ber 1955, she was deport­ed to Eng­land because she was still then a Com­mon­wealth “sub­ject.” There, she became the founder of the first black news­pa­per in Lon­don, the West Indi­an Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News (WIG) in 1958 and devel­oped a prax­is that bridged the Unit­ed States and Unit­ed King­dom, informed by the world pol­i­tics of decol­o­niza­tion. She orga­nized a par­al­lel March on Wash­ing­ton in 1963 and met world lead­ers like Mar­t­in Luther King, Jr., Mao Tse-Tung, Nor­man Man­ley, Ched­di Jagan, and Jomo Keny­at­ta of Kenya.

For Clau­dia Jones, com­mu­nism pro­vid­ed a the­o­ret­i­cal expla­na­tion for the treat­ment of oppressed black and work­ing class men and wom­en. Clau­dia Jones is cred­it­ed with putting con­sis­tent­ly on the plat­form of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty the triple oppres­sion of black wom­en based on their race, class, and gen­der and for pop­u­lar­iz­ing the triple rights call on behalf of work­ers, wom­en, and black peo­ple in the Unit­ed States through­out the 1940s and up to the mid-1950s. (See Car­ole Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Polit­i­cal Life of Black Com­mu­nist Clau­dia Jones, Durham, N.C.: Duke Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 2008, for fur­ther dis­cus­sion).

“We Seek Full Equal­i­ty for Wom­en” (1949) was pub­lished in the same year as her most well-known and cir­cu­lat­ed essay “An End to the Neglect of the Prob­lems of Negro Wom­en” (1949). I have described this essay as best cap­tur­ing Clau­dia Jones’s art of black left fem­i­nism. In it she iden­ti­fies the black woman’s place in the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist the­o­riza­tion of the mode of pro­duc­tion. While it begins with the idea of tak­ing up the his­to­ry of strug­gle of the Suf­frag­ists, she has­tens to describe how com­mu­nists were propos­ing to advance women’s rights. She sum­ma­rizes the basics of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist fem­i­nism, out­lin­ing the work that was tak­ing place in apply­ing this the­o­ry. She describes the orga­ni­za­tion of state branch­es of the Women’s Com­mis­sion and describes the Com­mu­nist Par­ty USA as lead­ing the way to devel­op­ing a pro­gres­sive women’s move­ment. The essay explains the caus­es of the inequal­i­ty of wom­en under cap­i­tal­ism and indi­cates that win­ning equal­i­ty was deter­mined by the extent to which the par­tic­u­lar “prob­lems, needs and aspi­ra­tions of wom­en – as wom­en” were addressed. Per­haps the most famous line in the essay, one often cit­ed by Ange­la Davis, is that the “triply-oppressed sta­tus of [Black] wom­en is a barom­e­ter of the sta­tus of all wom­en, and that the fight for the full, eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal and social equal­i­ty of the [Black] wom­an is in the vital self-inter­est of white work­ers, in the vital inter­est of the fight to real­ize equal­i­ty for all wom­en.”

In 2015, a good 65 years after this essay was writ­ten, inequal­i­ty remains. “We Seek Full Equal­i­ty for Wom­en” should there­fore be read again, and includ­ed as part of the com­mon library of thought on this sub­ject. 

 – Car­ole Boyce Davies (@Ca_Rule)


We Seek Full Equality for Women (1949)

Tak­ing up the strug­gle of the Suf­frag­ists, the Com­mu­nists have set new tasks, new objec­tives in the fight for a new sta­tus for wom­en. The spe­cial val­ue of Foster’s con­tri­bu­tion:

The lead­ing role of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty in the strug­gle to eman­ci­pate wom­en from male oppres­sion is one of the proud con­tri­bu­tions which our Par­ty of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism, the Com­mu­nist Par­ty, U.S.A., cel­e­brates on its thir­ti­eth anniver­sary.

Marx­ism-Lenin­ism expos­es the core of the wom­an ques­tion and shows that the posi­tion of wom­en in soci­ety is not always and every­where the same, but derives from woman’s rela­tion to the mode of pro­duc­tion.

Under cap­i­tal­ism, the inequal­i­ty of wom­en stems from exploita­tion of the work­ing class by the cap­i­tal­ist class. But the exploita­tion of wom­en cuts across class lines and affects all wom­en. Marx­ism-Lenin­ism views the wom­an ques­tion as a spe­cial ques­tion which derives from the eco­nom­ic depen­dence of wom­en upon men. This eco­nom­ic depen­dence as Engels wrote over 100 years ago, car­ries with it the sex­u­al exploita­tion of wom­en, the plac­ing of wom­an in the mod­ern bour­geois fam­i­ly, as the “pro­le­tari­at” of the man, who assumes the role of “bour­geoisie.”

Hence, Marx­ist-Lenin­ists fight to free wom­an of house­hold drudgery, they fight to win equal­i­ty for wom­en in all spheres; they rec­og­nize that one can­not ade­quate­ly deal with the wom­an ques­tion or win wom­en for pro­gres­sive par­tic­i­pa­tion unless one takes up the spe­cial prob­lems, needs and aspi­ra­tions of wom­en – as wom­en.

It is this basic prin­ci­ple that has gov­erned the the­o­ry and prac­tice of the Com­mu­nist Par­ty for the last three decades.

As a result, our Par­ty has chalked up a proud record of strug­gle for the rights of wom­en. Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture has been enhanced by the works of Marx­ists who inves­ti­gat­ed the sta­tus of wom­en in the U.S. in the ’30s. Its record is sym­bol­ized in the lives of such out­stand­ing wom­en Com­mu­nists as Ella Reeve Bloor and Ani­ta Whit­ney and oth­ers who are asso­ci­at­ed with the fight for women’s suf­frage, for the rights of the Negro peo­ple, for work­ing class eman­ci­pa­tion.

Our Par­ty and its lead­er­ship helped stim­u­late the orga­ni­za­tion of wom­en in the trade unions and helped activize the wives of work­ers in the great labor orga­niz­ing dri­ves; built house­wives’ coun­cils to fight again­st the high cost of liv­ing; taught wom­en through the boy­cott and oth­er mil­i­tant actions how to fight for the needs of the fam­i­ly; helped to train and mold wom­en Com­mu­nist lead­ers on all lev­els, work­ing class wom­en inspired by the con­vic­tions and ide­als of their class ­– the work­ing class.

A pio­neer in the fight for the orga­ni­za­tion of work­ing class wom­en, our Par­ty was the first to demon­strate to white wom­en and to the work­ing class that the triply-oppressed sta­tus of Negro wom­en is a barom­e­ter of the sta­tus of all wom­en, and that the fight for the full, eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal and social equal­i­ty of the Negro wom­an is in the vital self-inter­est of white work­ers, in the vital inter­est of the fight to real­ize equal­i­ty for all wom­en.

But it remained for the con­tri­bu­tion of William Z. Fos­ter, Nation­al Chair­man of our Par­ty, to sharp­en the think­ing of the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nist Par­ty on the wom­an ques­tion. Com­rade Fos­ter pro­ject­ed in a deep­er way the basic neces­si­ty for the work­ing class and its van­guard Par­ty to fight the obsta­cles to women’s equal­i­ty, evi­denced in many anti-wom­an prej­u­dices, in the preva­lent ide­ol­o­gy of male supe­ri­or­i­ty fos­tered by the monop­o­lists imbibed by the work­ing class men.

The essence of Foster’s con­tri­bu­tion is that it is nec­es­sary to win the mass­es of Amer­i­can wom­en for the over-all strug­gle again­st impe­ri­al­ist war and fas­cism by pay­ing spe­cial atten­tion to their prob­lems and by devel­op­ing spe­cial strug­gles for their eco­nom­ic, polit­i­cal, and social needs. Bas­ing him­self upon the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist tenet that the inequal­i­ty of wom­en is inher­ent­ly con­nect­ed with the exploita­tion of the work­ing class, Fos­ter called on the Par­ty and the work­ing class to mas­ter the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist the­o­ry of the wom­an ques­tion, to improve our prac­ti­cal work on this ques­tion, and to cor­rect for­mer errors, errors of com­mis­sion and omis­sion with regard to this fun­da­men­tal ques­tion.

Foster’s spe­cial con­tri­bu­tion lies in his unique exposé of the mask placed on the sta­tus of wom­en in every sphere in the U.S. by Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ism. Com­rade Fos­ter exposed the bour­geois lie that wom­en in the U.S. have achieved full equal­i­ty and that no fur­ther rights remain to be won. He shows that the ide­o­log­i­cal prop used by reac­tionary pro­pa­gan­dists to per­pet­u­ate false ideas of women’s ‘infe­ri­or­i­ty’ is to base their anti-social argu­ments as regards wom­en on all kinds of pseudo-sci­en­tific assump­tions, par­tic­u­lar­ly the field of biol­o­gy.

Any under­es­ti­ma­tion of the need for a per­sis­tent ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle again­st all man­i­fes­ta­tions of mas­cu­line supe­ri­or­i­ty must there­fore be root­ed out. If biol­o­gy is false­ly uti­lized by the bour­geois ide­ol­o­gists to per­pet­u­ate their false notions about wom­en, Com­mu­nists and pro­gres­sives must fare bold­ly into the bio­log­i­cal sci­ences and enhance our ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle again­st bour­geois ideas and prac­tices of male supe­ri­or­i­ty.

In order to meet the tasks pro­ject­ed for a deep­er under­stand­ing and mas­tery of the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist approach to the wom­an ques­tion a spe­cial Par­ty Com­mis­sion on The­o­ret­i­cal Aspects of Work among Wom­en was estab­lished.

Reflect­ing the great hunger for the­o­ry on the wom­an ques­tion on the part of Com­mu­nists and pro­gres­sives was the one day Con­fer­ence on Marx­ism and the Wom­en Ques­tion held under the aus­pices of the Jef­fer­son School of Social Sci­ence held in June of this year. Near­ly 600 wom­en and men attend­ed. Indica­tive, too, of how the Par­ty is meet­ing its tasks in this sphere are the numer­ous cadre schools which have been held to facil­i­tate the train­ing of wom­en for mass work among wom­en and the train­ing of Com­mu­nist men on the wom­an ques­tion.

Some 10 Par­ty women’s com­mis­sions now exist, which, under the lead­er­ship and guid­ance of the Par­ty dis­trict orga­ni­za­tions, give atten­tion to work among wom­en in the Par­ty and in the mass orga­ni­za­tions. It is nec­es­sary to uti­lize the 30th anniver­sary of our Par­ty to strength­en our mass and Par­ty work and to turn the face of the entire Par­ty toward this ques­tion.

This is nec­es­sary, first, because with­out mobi­liza­tion of the mass­es of wom­en, par­tic­u­lar­ly work­ing class and Negro wom­en, the fight for peace again­st a third world war will not be suc­cess­ful. Amer­i­can wom­en and their orga­ni­za­tions have given indi­ca­tions in var­ied ways, that they oppose the Atlantic Pact, and are fear­ful of the impli­ca­tions of the arms pact.

This under­stand­ing is nec­es­sary, sec­ond­ly, because of the grow­ing reac­tionary offen­sive again­st the civil rights of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, the out­stand­ing exam­ples of which is the indict­ment and tri­al of the 12 lead­ers of our Par­ty before a jury hav­ing a major­i­ty of wom­en.

Final­ly, this under­stand­ing is nec­es­sary because with­out root­ing our­selves among the mass­es of wom­en, with­out build­ing the pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions of wom­en, such as the Con­gress of Amer­i­can Wom­en, Women’s Divi­sion of the Pro­gres­sive Par­ty, the Negro women’s orga­ni­za­tions, etc., and with­out orga­niz­ing spe­cial strug­gles for the demands of wom­en, we can­not win the wom­en again­st the reac­tionary influ­ences of the Roman Catholic hier­ar­chy, and the bour­geois ide­ol­o­gists.

By suc­cess­ful­ly mas­ter­ing our the­o­ry of the wom­an ques­tion, orga­niz­ing mass­es of Amer­i­can wom­en, and focus­ing atten­tion pri­mar­i­ly on the prob­lems and needs of work­ing class wom­en, our Par­ty can help ush­er in a new sta­tus for Amer­i­can wom­en.

To achieve that end, we must win the wom­en to an over-active fight again­st impe­ri­al­ist war and fas­cism. For, in the words of the great Dim­itroff, in his famous report, “The Unit­ed Front Again­st Fas­cism”:

While fas­cism exacts most from youth it enslaves wom­en with par­tic­u­lar ruth­less­ness and cyn­i­cism, play­ing on the most painful feel­ings of the moth­er, the house­wife, the sin­gle work­ing wom­an, uncer­tain of the mor­row. Fas­cism, pos­ing as a bene­fac­tor, throws the starv­ing fam­i­ly a few beg­gar­ly scraps, try­ing in this way to sti­fle the bit­ter­ness aroused par­tic­u­lar­ly among the toil­ing wom­en, by the unprece­dent­ed slav­ery which fas­cism brings them.

We must spare no pains to see that the wom­en work­ers and toil­ers fight shoul­der to shoul­der with their class broth­ers in the ranks of the unit­ed work­ing class front and the anti-fas­cist people’s front.

In the spir­it of the anti-fas­cist hero of Leipzig, let us reded­i­cate our­selves to the fight for the com­plete equal­i­ty of wom­en.

Excerpt­ed from Clau­dia Jones: Beyond Con­tain­ment, ed. Car­ole Boyce Davies (Ban­bury, UK: Ayebia Clarke Pub­lish­ing Ltd., 2011).

Author of the article

(1915-1964) was a Trinidad-born communist and feminist.