The roots of women’s & LGBT oppression

The following excerpted talk was given by Fight Imperialism, Stand Together organizer LeiLani Dowell, at the WWP National Conference, Nov. 14.

It is not an overstatement to say that in every struggle against oppression in the U.S. in the past 50 years, the Party has been there. This is undoubtedly true with regards to our history in the struggle for liberation of women and lesbian, gay, bi and trans people.

In 1970, the women of Youth Against War and Fascism—the Party’s youth wing—formed a Women’s Caucus. This caucus organized the first major demonstration of the women’s liberation movement in New York, which marched to the Women’s House of Detention.

In 1971, WWP marched in the second-ever LGBT Pride march. And we haven’t stopped marching. In fact, each year Comrade Marsha makes a new placard—this year it was “WWP marching with Pride for 38 years.”

We’ve also made big contributions to the theoretical understanding of these oppressions. In 1971, Workers World Party co-founder Dorothy Ballan wrote “Feminism and Marxism.” Ballan answered the position that the oppression of women has been an eternal struggle. Ballan explained that such teachings about the “innate nature” of social conditions only help a ruling class that would like to maintain those conditions.

Ballan raised the findings of Frederick Engels, who used anthropological findings to prove that the oppression of women only arose with the development of surplus wealth and class society. The earliest recorded societies were actually matriarchal, with a division of labor but without the sexism that exists today.

Ballan also raised the necessary connection between the struggle for women’s liberation and the struggle against racism. She challenged white women who refused to recognize the added oppression that women of color face, and who engender white supremacy by assuming the right to campaign against male supremacy in communities of color.

Five years later, Comrade Bob McCubbin would produce “The Gay Question,” which was later updated with the title, “The Roots of Lesbian and Gay Oppression.” At a time when many other political tendencies either ignored the LGBT question or even denounced homosexuality as a “deformity of capitalism,” the book was truly groundbreaking as a Marxist analysis of LGBT oppression.

Bob asserted that LGBT oppression rose in tandem with women’s oppression, as a product of class society. When men learned to domesticate large animals—learned from the women, that is—that domestication led to the development of more than was needed for immediate survival, or a surplus. In order to hold on to that surplus wealth, the patriarchal system was imposed, with wealth passing down through the lineage of the male.

Women’s equality and gender and sex variance posed a challenge to this new patriarchal system. They had to be repressed.

Through it all, we have always maintained an independent, class-based line on the struggle. While we fight against every manifestation of oppression, we fight above all to overturn the capitalist system that fuels and thrives on that oppression.

Today, we see the same forces of repression attempting to tell us that marriage is between a man and a woman, and not a social/economic contract. We see them challenging our rights to full health care, including our reproductive needs. We see the continued attacks, bashings, rapes, etc., on ourselves and our loved ones.

And it’s so helpful to have our legacy of analysis and struggle to keep us fighting on the front lines.


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