1991 World Congress: Latin America: Dynamics of mass movements and feminist currents

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II. Our orientation

27. Confronted with any form of oppression, the only solution is the self-organization of the oppressed to fight it. The case of women is no different. It is the independent self-organization of women themselves that can impose reforms to the law and to current government economic policy, and changes in the social and political organizations of the masses, to improve their immediate situation and encourage and create better conditions for their continued struggle. On the basis of self-organization, as the fundamental foundation of their liberation movement, they can reach the numerical strength and political development necessary for having a favourable influence on future events, both today and after the revolution.

It is only through a process of self-organization that women can succeed in transforming themselves, collectively and individually, in public and private, in such a way that the traditional role filled by women can be replaced with a new concept and a new reality of what is woman, creating this through the struggle itself.

28. A thoroughgoing, consistent feminist struggle is not simply to achieve formal equality between women and men, but to completely revolutionize relations between them, eliminating the historico-social construction of gender. This change cannot be fully realized in the framework of class society, particularly in the present Latin American context of exploitation and oppression in countries that are dominated by imperialism. In this sense, it is in all women’s interest to struggle for the overthrow of the oppressive patriarchal capitalist system and for building a socialist, democratic and pluralist society. Only such a revolution and a new society can lay the bases for completely eliminating the oppression currently experienced by women.

However, women’s oppression is not automatically eliminated either with the anti-capitalist revolution or in post-capitalist society. For women to be able to transform their own lives, to be revolutionary subjects in the taking of power and the overthrow of the present bourgeois regimes, and to have the strength to favourably influence the events in a post-revolutionary society, it is necessary now that they build a political movement based on their demands as a gender.

The formation of this movement will transform them into a political subject, which fights for its own interests; women’s objective historical interest in eliminating patriarchal class society laying the basis for their transformation into a revolutionary subject. This transformation could in practice go along with the political development of the movement itself and its vanguard.

29. To build this movement today, we have to start from the conditions, the forms of organization and the demands that women feel to be theirs, whether they are gender demands or not. Self-organization of women by social sector around their most pressing demands is an essential element in strengthening women socially, collectively and thus individually, creating greater possibilities for the development of consciousness of gender oppression, even though this is not automatic.

Undoubtedly, women’s struggle for their own demands will be closely linked to the struggles of all working people, even with the rise of their own political movement. In building this movement general class demands will combine with gender demands as the basis of unity. Nevertheless, this dynamic will certainly include ups and downs in the promotion of specifically feminist demands.

A better level of organization of the popular movement will encourage greater recognition of women’s struggle for their own demands. This is because a better level of coordination and unity not only means more chance of winning but also a higher level of politicization, the establishment of a more global basis for unity and an understanding of the need to organize in an ongoing way, not just for tackling one problem but a whole series of problems.

In practical terms, it also creates the possibility for a better division of labour within organizations of struggle and for giving more attention to seriously analyzing their reality.

The coming together of forces whose objective is extending women’s consciousness of their specific oppression is more effective in reaching larger numbers of women.

But there is no mechanical relationship between the general popular movement and women’s advance. Women have to have their own political expression. And they will only succeed if there is a conscious effort in every movement to promote the growing discovery and politicization of gender oppression, which we can call the feminization of the demands, organization and political dynamic of the women’s movement.

30. In the very process of building the movement, different problems are raised:

a) Given the diversity of demands, which reflect not only different needs but also different levels of consciousness, we must take every opportunity to bring together struggles and establish a system of demands that can move towards the formation of an increasingly clearly defined political movement.

b) Given the dangers of clientelism and self-helpism, we have to reinforce the internal democracy of both the mass organizations in general and the political space and organizations for women, as well as ensuring democratic functioning in the women’s movement as a whole. On the other hand, the political nature of women’s demands should be emphasized - they cannot be met by charity - along with the absolute necessity of keeping the movement independent from the bourgeoisie and the state.

c) Despite the difficulties faced by women workers in terms of their political and trade-union participation, this should not lead to the conclusion that their involvement in the women’s movement is not central. The numbers of women who have gone into the labour market has meant that, despite all the obstacles to their participation, more women are active in trade unions than ever before. And when they enter into a collective process of consciousness raising and struggle around their oppression as women as well as workers, they advance politically more rapidly and consistently than other sectors because of their living and working conditions and their numerical concentration - in sum, their social situation.

d) Given the attempts of the state to coopt the women’s movement, particularly its feminist pole, in addition to strongly maintaining its autonomy for historical reasons there must also be political perspectives for the type of changes considered necessary from now on at governmental level. We should promote the following criteria for these within the movement. Distinguishing between two things: services that the state is obliged to provide with the greatest control on the part of the users; and a position of accepting or promoting the state organizing women (the example of the Women Today programme in Argentina). In the case of legislative proposals, it is more feasible to maintain the independence of the women’s movement in proposing or supporting this or that draft law. But at the level of the executive (ministries for health, justice, social or family welfare), the form of the relationship between the movement and particular state programmes is more complicated. If we demand a programme of maternity healthcare, for example, and win it, we cannot simply leave the state to determine its form, content and application. But neither can the movement take full responsibility for it. The criterion that we can adopt is proposals for and vigilance over such programmes, but without accepting direct responsibility for their functioning.

In the case where the left controls municipalities, the objective of its programmes should be to increase the possibilities for self-organization of the movement, as was done with the Glass of Milk programmes in many municipalities in Peru. The simple implementation of the programme, without women’s self-organization, will neither guarantee its future nor strengthen the women’s movement or the long-term objectives of the left itself.

e) Because of the prevailing sexism in the mass movements and their leaderships, mechanisms have to be established within them to increase women’s space and promote discussion - not only around concrete action proposals and demands, but also around the origins, manifestations and solutions to women’s oppression: that is, a theoretical discussion.

31. To enable this process to move forward, the feminist pole in the women’s organizations and movement has to be strengthened:

a) Strengthening the recomposition of this pole to include more women leaders of the mass movement so that they - along with the women of the autonomous groups, the non-governmental organizations, the political parties and the youth who today would like to get involved in this struggle - can forge a real vanguard of the whole women’s movement.

b) Establishing more opportunities for political and theoretical discussion in the vanguard through conferences, coordinations around concrete campaigns, publications, seminars, and so on.

c) Orienting this pole so that its priority becomes the relationship with the general women’s movement, so that it can:

- take advantage of each opportunity to put forward unifying gender demands;

- take advantage of each opportunity to unify the women’s movement;

- ensure the continuity of the movement;

- encourage reflection and theoretical production - a collective memory for the movement;

- develop independent alternatives to the proposals of the bourgeoisie and the state.

To do this there has to be the development of a political alternative within the feminist pole in alliance with other sectors which have a simular vision. If other revolutionary currents and parties which are today absent from this political elaboration become convinced of feminism this will also help the development of this alternative.

If the clearly feminist expressions of the women’s movement are weakened, in time the organization of the mass of women will also tend to be undermined. The mass sectoral organizations will tend to disperse or be manipulated for other ends, which implies a political weakning which will in time lead to an organic erosion.

32. The reason for the existence of our organizations is to be a useful political instrument for our peoples organizing themselves, proposing and implementing their own projects as a nation in line with their interests, against the interests of the bourgeoisie and imperialism.The revolution and the new socialist society that we seek to create can only be the work of the toiling people as a whole, and for this reason our revolutionary Marxist current has a conception of feminism that encompasses a profound transformation, the subversion of the existing order.

For this reason we must be the foremost promoters of the women’s liberation movement and of the discussion within the mass movement and the left - particularly the revolutionary left - around the necessity of building this movement and the ways of doing so.