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Women struggle inside the party

Talk at the European forum of socialist feminists
Manchester 1988

AKP(m-l) was founded in 1973. The party originates from one of the many maoist youth groups that sprang up all over the world in the late sixties – early seventies. The founding of the party was the result of conscious political work towards this goal through several years.

Most of the maoist groups that sprang up in the west at that time have since dwindled or totally perished. The membership of AKP(m-1) has also lessened, but the party has retained much of its political influence and even broadened it in some respect. Our party has all through its history been well-known as a party supporting and leading strikes, and for our consequent support to the struggle of the people in the third world against the superpowers. We have, since 1977, a daily newspaper called Class Struggle.

Today we are also known for our political lines and action in women questions. The last 4 years have had a woman leader, we have in the party rules that half the seats in our leading bodies at national and district level must be taken up by women.

This paper is going to be about the struggle of the women in the party to change the policy and work of the party so that the women question is integrated in the main strategy and the struggle against oppression of women seen as a major task.

Before the party was founded the marxist-leninists took the initiative to establish a women organization, The Women's Front, in which women with different political views took part. The platform was not socialist, but anti-capitalist and it was an activist organization. The demands were the demands of ordinary women, work, kindergartens, abortion. This Woman Front is today the leading women organization in Norway.

Lots of members of our party has participated in the Women Front, and this experience has been the foundation of the struggle in the party. These experiences came into conflict with some of the traditions of a marxist-leninist party.

The main aim of the struggle of the women inside the party has been to make the party able to lead the struggle of the whole working class and the whole working people, not only half. We have aimed at results in the external work. To make this possible it is also necessary to fight the oppression inside the party.

Changing the party by changing the world

We have two main political perspectives that we have been fighting for and that we have grasped more fully through our struggle.

The one is that since the oppression of women is strongly interwoven with the material base and power structure of the capitalist and imperialist system, the goal of the women's struggle is to overthrow this system. Women's struggle is a revolutionary force in its own right, that revolutionary movements must work hard to mobilize. But women's struggle can only succeed in alliance with the struggle of the working class.

The second perspective is that to mobilize the full force of the working class, one has to consider that half the working class is women having and an everyday reality different from male workers.

Our main experience is that the most effective way of changing the party policy is to organize and mobilize women outside the party to fight against oppression. Our party's attention is always directed to people in action; women in action is a better argument than most.

A very important part of our struggle has been to get attention to the fact that half the working class in Norway are women. This has been an integral part of our struggle for the 6 hour normal working day. The discussions and the campaigning for the 6 hour working day, where the Women Front has played an important part, have deepened the understanding of the differences in the situation for men and women. Through our experience in this struggle and the study of the situation of women in the Norwegian capitalist society we have come to some new conclusions.

Two leading forces in the working class

In traditional marxist-leninist theory the leading force in the working class is the core proletariat, the workers in industry, mines, transport, mainly male. They play a leading role on account of their concentration, their organization, their tradition of class struggle, their position in big productive industries. In our view they are still playing this important role.

At the same time the female workers are developing as another leading force. They play their leading role on account of their double position as an oppressed class and an oppressed sex. Women are squeezed between their responsibilities at work and at home, and are forced to raise struggles for certain important demands, for example 6 hours working day, public services like kindergartens, hospitals and nursing homes. Growing consciousness of being women contributes to making them a force.

These conclusions have played an important part in giving the conditions of women a central place in our party's work. And they emphasize the fact that working with female workers one cannot just copy work among male workers. One has to take into consideration both sex and class, both class-consciousness and women-consciousness. At this time we are preparing a campaign for woman wages, "women demands a wage to live on", and have started to organize around this slogan together with women outside our party, women from the trade unions and from the women organizations.

And these conclusions have raised the importance of building alliances between the two leading forces to obtain unity in the working class. This unity can not be built the traditional way, asking women to be patient and overlook the male chauvinism of their class mates in the name of unity. The terms of unity have to be formulated by the women, not the men. But there has to be a struggle for unity.

These questions are being actively discussed in our party these days, both the question of alliances in the class struggle in Norway and the unity inside the party itself. There are of course conflicts over the balance between fighting oppression and building unity, but we see results.

This autumn we had an open workers conference in Oslo with 400 participants from all over the country, and half the speakers in the plenary debate with more than 30 speakers were women. This again changes the participants opinions about women in the working class. The question of women wages is raised as an important issue at conferences currently held by the opposition in the trade union movement.

Women struggle is a revolutionary force

Parallel to the fight for the importance of the women working class, we have worked for the recognition of women's struggle as a revolutionary force in its own right.

In this work too we have put our main emphasis on work among women in the mass movements. A struggle that has had a great impact inside the party is the struggle against pornography that has been a broad mass movement in Norway, led among others by members of our party working in the Women front. This struggle has raised the consciousness of both women and men.

Important discussions in our party has been about the sharing of housework and the functions of the family as an economical unit in capitalist society that is closely linked to wage labour. And about how to organize in a different way in a socialist society. Our party has in its program that it is impossible to obtain freedom for women without putting an end to the family organization of today. These discussions have also given the struggle of women a more important role in a socialist society than before.

Inside the party

Even if the work in the mass movements is important, it is not enough.

Our experience is that it is necessary both to have women in central positions in the party, as for now the leader, and women working specialized with theory, organizing and campaigning among women.

This combination makes it possible both to integrate women policy in the main strategy and all the time struggle for the visibility of women and look at still more questions from the point of view of women and mobilize.

I'll say something more about the specialized work inside the party. Parallel to the struggles for the 6 hour working day and against pornography, women inside the party has been organizing theoretical discussions as I mentioned earlier. There has been study groups for women only studying The Capital, preparing studies in the party as a whole. Discussions went on in women conferences with women members and sympathizers as well as in the ordinary party meetings.

For the last 4 years we have organized courses in self-assertiveness. These courses take up women's position in society and gives the participants a common consciousness of their social position and interests as a sex, in addition to emphasizing the class struggle. It emphasizes the necessity of making changes together, fighting collectively, they teach in the technics of power and how to break them. This course has become widely popular; we are not able to fill the demand. And they have played an important part in giving the women a common basis for their work.

How is this work organized?

We have one woman in the leading body who is responsible for this field of work. She has a committee with women doing this work. In the districts we are not strong enough to have committees, but there will be women responsible. Then there are being held conferences with these women both at central and local level. This is all within the democratic centralism of our party. The responsible women report to the leading bodies. At larger meetings the women gather and prepare for the plenary sessions, and the same is possible inside the different leading bodies.

In the last 4 years we have had a woman leader and the rule about 50 % woman in the leading bodies. This has been very important. Our leader has written a book, Sisters, comrades!, which sums up our theoretical stand, a marxist analysis of the oppression of women. The party has arranged a big open woman
conference with around 800 participants, which showed also for the men members of the party the force of our woman policy. And the theory of the two leading forces of the working class is made the basis of our strategy.

I think we have obtained major changes in our party. Nevertheless, even with woman leaders we are still a kind of opposition, having to fight for our perspective all the time. But we are aware of it, and that makes it possible to have a strategy. This is also a struggle where the power relations between the sexes and their form of interacting is a difficult road for the woman policies to pass.

In our party rules mistreatment of woman are forbidden and we have had members being thrown out because of that. But that's not a main problem, most men in our party are decent comrades who are in favour of woman's liberation. Nevertheless our struggle meet an infinite set of unconscious mechanisms, that make woman and their conditions invisible, and we meet power technics.

I have already said that women need a program, they need political aims for their struggle, and I have given some examples of our aims. I have also said that the best way of changing the party is to change the world. And that women have to be many to make changes, not becoming hostages. And that we have to seek positions in the party (or another organization), and at the same time secure the specialized work with women questions and the organization of women.
It is important to see the difference between real and formal positions , and use the program to measure the amount of power.

With the men in our party we have taken advantage of the fact that they are "political animals" and have used political arguments as our main weapon. Again and again. But we also have to be aware of some other mechanisms.

Each time we do not succeed in getting our party to do something about a question important for women, there is a plausible reason for it. Trying to push these issues becomes easily a strenuous task meeting a wall of practical difficulties. A wall like that is often more difficult to come by than open political resistance. But it is what we call the unending row of systematic accidental circumstances, it becomes a political line that pushes the women questions out.

The fact that women are being made invisible, hits women politics. What women writes, especially of women questions, are not widely read by men and makes little impression. Most men have a blind spot there. It is not important for men to know these questions. This mechanism also makes the political struggle seem like fussing. To bring a woman perspective into discussion and plans, one have to break with the terms that have been laid down. Then one is easily met with arguments about not keeping straight to the issue and bringing in quite other problems.

The interaction between us is marked by the power relation between the sexes. Research has shown that men and women have different aims in the same situation. Men is occupied by the dominance and power dimension, women by the being together and nearness, to put it roughly. The interaction secures that men get their points through while the women secures that nobody gets bad friends and that conflicts are solved or smoothened. This is not conscious. And women in leading positions meet this even more. Both she and the men are used to the men laying down the terms. She is judged as a leader, but treated and acts as a woman. And when women try to make decisions that have direct implications for men's own work, they meet a resistance independent of what the decisions are.

Our conclusion is that it is necessary to analyze the interaction between the sexes as a part of the political analysis and to make it an explicit political issue. What is going on unconsciously, must be made conscious. This is a part of the political struggle.