Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

How the CPA(ML) Has Restricted the Growth of Marxist-Leninist Ideas Amongst Women


First Printed: Discussion Bulletin, #4, July 13, 1979.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Editorial note: This article is reprinted from “Unity and Struggle”, a theoretical journal produced by the ADELAIDE ANTI-IMPERIALIST STUDY-ACTION GROUP.

* * *

The ideas of the Chairman (sic) of the CPA(ML), E.F. Hill, are to be found in his writing on ’The vexed question of women’ (’Vanguard’ , May 13, 1978, p.4).

The present policy of the CPA(ML) on the Women’s Question is to be found in the Party pamphlet, ’Women’s liberation rests on class struggle (July 1978).

The CPA(ML) has existed for almost 15 years. Over that time it has displayed, at best, a passive attitude to the just struggles of women. At worst, known members and supporters of the CPA(ML) have displayed an openly male chauvinist attitude to women.

Naturally, over this time, and especially in recent years, these backward attitudes and deeds of the CPA(ML) has drawn criticism from both inside and outside the Party.

The present public policy of the CPA(ML) is, in part, a response to these criticisms. Their present policy represents an attack, without qualification, on the Women’s liberation movement and a vain attempt to liquidate necessary struggles around specific Women’s demands.

E.F. Hill’s Position on the Women Question

Over the years E.F. Hill has not been noted for his writings on the Women’s Question. His position has been a passive one, virtually ignoring this important question.

But after reading his one recent writing on ’The vexed question of women’, we can appreciate his wisdom in remaining passive and silent over the years. Here are his comments:

Let us take the vexed question of women. It is absolute nonsense in my opinion to see the solution to this problem in altering ’man’ to ’people’ ,’chairman’ to ’chairperson’, pushing to the fore rape, contraception , abortion and such things as things in themselves. I doubt if it even has a mechanical importance . Yet it finds reflection in our thinking, our ideology. Perhaps on no single subject has petty bourgeois ideology so easily penetrated the minds of some of our comrades. Why is this? It is because women are subject to double oppression; there is a growing consciousness of it and the bourgeoisie know and sense this. They put forward the nonsensical solution of altering ’man’ to ’people’ (when ’man’ is scientifically correct), ’chairman’ to ’chairperson’; elevate rape to the forefront as a thing in itself. Working class ideology is quite different. It is expounded by Engels in ’Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State’, by Marx, Lenin and Chairman Mao Tsetung. Women’s liberation doubtless attracted honest people. It has done great damage in diverting attention from the real questions. Despite its considerable success in altering “Mrs.” and “Miss” to Ms., the central fact remains that the double oppression of working women remains. Certainly this is far from a mechanical question. The very fact of the success of the bourgeoisie is a warning to purify our ideology. It must be thought over. ( Vanguard, May 18, 1978, p. 4).

Let us take a closer look at E.F. Hill’s attempt to “purify his ideology” on “the vexed question of women.”

(i) E.F. Hill says that, altering ’man’ to ’people’ is “nonsensical” because “’man’ is scientifically correct.”

No doubt this classic piece of dogma is based on the observation that the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao use the term ’man’ and not ’people’. We do not know why Marx etc. do this. But our criterion for scientific is what conforms to reality. We feel that Marx etc. are scientific socialists because much of what they have said has indeed conformed to reality. But on the Women’s Question reality is that ’women hold up half the sky’. So obviously ’people’ is more scientific correct than ’man’ when describing the human race.

Likewise when the chairperson is a man, ’chairman’ would appear scientific to us, and when a woman, ’chairwoman’ would appear scientific. Certainly if the chairperson was a woman, ’chairman’ would strike us as grossly unscientific.

In this small example, E.F. Hill appears to display a lack of common sense and rigid inflexibility.

(ii) E.F. Hill ’sharply’ condemns the reformist approach to “rape, contraception, abortion” as “absolute, nonsense” and a “nonsensical solution put forward” by the “bourgeoisie”. He then proceeds to draw a ’sharp’ distinction between this approach and the approach of Marx etc. and concludes that “the success of the bourgeoisie is a warning to purify our own ideology.”

It is true that Marxist Leninists (MLs) have a duty to strive to link immediate demands and reforms (including specific women’s demands like those mentioned) to the broader revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system of the private ownership of the means of production. But the negative way in which Hill dismisses these reforms is quite wrong. The whole style and manner of Hill’s article is quite mechanical and inhuman. What is completely lacking is awareness of the crying need for urgent and immediate action on practical questions to alleviate the extreme plight of women in our society.

In fact, women (and some men) have acted and organised against rape, against bashing of women and children by men, against paternalism and male egoism, for abortion and contraception, for equal rights in the workplace and. society (eg. pubs) and against sexist publications like ’Playboy’ etc.

Naturally MLinists should support these struggles as basically good and so get involved in them, learn about them, and fight for their ideas in the course of the struggle.

But Hill’s approach is to emphasise their negative side and to take this as a “warning to purify our own ideology.”

The immediate practical effect of Hill’s policy is to drive away progressive women with a reformist approach to these questions, away from the CPA(M-L) and by association away from MLinism. In short Hill’s approach is “purist” and sectarian.

Because Hill so ardently describes his ideas as those of Marx, EngeIs, Lenin and Mao it is very important to point out that his ideas are actually anti-Leninist. Those who really want to defend Leninism on the Women’s Question should make a point of disassociating themselves from Hill’s ideas.

In his talk with Clara Zetkin, Lenin stresses both the need to advance specific women’s demands and the need to link these demands with the path of revolutionary struggle. By comparison, Hill talks only about the latter and pours cold water on the former.

Lenin said:

It is therefore perfectly right for us to put forward demands for the benefit of women... It does not go to show that we believe the bourgeoisie and its state will last forever, or even for a long time. Nor is it an attempt to pacify the masses of women with reforms or divert them from the path of revolutionary struggle. It is nothing of the sort, and not any sort of reformist humbug either. Our demands are no more than practical conclusions, drawn by us from the crying needs and disgraceful humiliations that weak and underprivileged women must bear under the bourgeois system. We demonstrate thereby that we are aware of these needs and of the oppression of women, that we are conscious of the privileged position of men, and that we hate – yes, hate – and want to remove whatever oppresses and harasses the working women, the wife of the worker, the peasant woman, the wife of the little man, and even in many respects the woman of the propertied classes. The rights and social measures we demand of bourgeois society for women are proof that we understand the position and interests of women and that we will take note of them under the proletarian dictatorship. Naturally, not as soporific and patronising reformists. No, by no means. But as revolutionaries who call upon the women to take a hand as equals in the reconstruction of the economy and the ideological superstructure. (Lenin, ’On the emancipation of women’, p.112)

(iii) E.F. Hill says’: “Women’s liberation doubtless attracted honest people. It has done great damage in diverting attention from the real questions.”

This statement is a condemnation of the Women’s liberation movement without qualification. He does not attempt to draw any distinction between the progressive and reactionary aspects of the Women’s liberation movement. He only refers to the “great damage” it has done. He is blind to the great achievements of the Women’s movement and its ongoing potential.

The responsibility for the negative aspects of the women’s liberation movement that do exist (eg. radical feminism and reformism) not only lies with the bourgeois and revisionist forces within it. Those like E.F. Hill who are so concerned about contamination by “petty bourgeois” ideology that they stay away to “purify” their “own ideology” are equally responsible. It certainly should be no surprise if the Women’s liberation movement is often under leadership hostile to Marxism Leninism. The ideas of E.F. Hill and the CPA(ML) have had a considerable effect on those in Australia inclined to Marxism-Leninism over the last 15 years.

E.F. Hill thinks that Women’s liberation has done “great damage”. But he does not get involved in it, or encourage others to do so, to fight to change it. He simply wipes it off. E.F. Hill’s position here is extremely bad and reactionary.

On the CPA(ML) Pamphlet “Women’s Liberation Rests on Class Struggle”

This article was initially published in ’Vanguard’ (March 9, 1978, p.10). It must have met with approval from the leadership because it was then reprinted in ’Australian Communist’ 88 (March/Apri1 1978). It was given the final ’seal of approval’ when it was again reprinted as a separate Party booklet in July 1978.

Not surprisingly, the political line of this pamphlet is very similar to the writing of E.F. Hill that we have analysed above. This pamphlet and Hill’s ideas represent the dominant position and present police of the CPA(ML).

In passing, it should be mentioned that, not surprisingly, since the policy of the CPA(ML) is so bad, there is a 2 line struggle within the Party on the Women’s Question. The dissident line is vastly superior to the dominant Hill line. The dissident line is expressed in such articles as ’Womens role in struggle for independence, socialism’ (’Australian Communist’ 86, Nov. 1977).

The CPA(ML) pamphlet *Women’s liberation rests on class struggle’ says:

Australian working class history abounds with many splendid examples of integration in strike struggles, of action about prices, against hardship of all kinds. Much can be learnt from them, But it also includes many examples of closed doorism – the setting up of ’pure’ organisations to cater for the ’special problems’ of women, whinge sessions which relate to all the ’evils’ of men, holding the opposite sex to be the cause of all evil, proposals of political parties and movements to cater for women because they are women (including we presume, the hangers on of the multinational women). One needs also to look objectively at these negative examples where perspective is lost and any movement such as it was degenerated into the dead end of out and out revisionism. (p.7)

Let us examine some of these statements by the CPA(ML):

(i) The CPA(ML) dismisses “proposals of political parties and movements to cater for women because they are women” as an example of “closed doorism”.

This is simply a repeat of Hill’s attack on the Women’s liberation movement which we have already commented on.

(ii) The CPA(ML) opposes “the setting up of ’pure’ organisations to cater for the ’special problems’ of women” as another example of “closed doorism”.

That the CPA(ML) chooses to label all Half Way Houses or Rape Crisis Centres as “pure” only reveals their own obsession for ’purity’ and the abysmal ignorance that accompanies their ideological purification. The fact that they place ’special problems’ in inverted commas reveals that they consider that women have no special problems.

Again the CPA(ML) departs from Leninism and by revising Lenin’s ideas play the role of discrediting him. In his talk with Clara Zetkin although Lenin does say: “We want no separate organisations of Communist women”, he makes it very clear that a Communist Party must have working groups, composed of women and men, for the specific purpose of working amongst women.

Lenin said:

The Party, must have organs – working groups, commissions, committees, sections or whatever else they may be called – with the specific purpose of rousing the broad masses of women, bringing them into contact with the Party and keeping them under its influence. This naturally requires that we carry on systematic work amongst the women. We must teach the awakened women, win them over for the proletarian class struggle under the leadership of the Communist Party, and equip them for it. When I say this I have in mind not only proletarian women, whether they work in mills or cook the family meal. I also have in mind the peasant women and the women of the various sections of the lower middle class. They, too, are victims of capitalism and more than ever since the war. The lack of interest in politics and the otherwise anti-social and backward psychology of these masses of women, the narrow scope of their activities and the whole pattern of their lives are undeniable facts. It would be silly to ignore then!, absolutely silly. We must have our own groups to work among them, special methods of agitation, and special forms of organisation. This is not bourgeois ’feminism’; it is practical revolutionary expediency. (Lenin, “On the emancipation of women”, pp.110-lll).

The difference between the practical revolutionary approach of Lenin and the elitist and sectarian approach of the CPA(ML) is indeed striking!

(iii) The CPA(ML) regards “whinge sessions which relate to all the ’evils’ of men” as another example of “closed doorism”.

That such a derogatory adjective as “whinge” is used reveals a sexist mentality and a most unhealthy sensitivity by E.F. Hill and co. to criticism for sexist attitudes and behaviour they undoubtedly display. In their writings (as distinct from their behaviour) on other political questions the CPA(ML) often welcomes the process of criticism and self criticism as essential and desirable. So why do they describe such a process as a “whinge session” when it comes to discussing ’evil’ male behaviour??

Of course the revisionists and other bad people use the Women’s movement to promote incorrect ideas. But such behaviour should not be overly stressed because it is by no means confined to the Women’s movement. To generalise from the negative examples that do exist that women don’t have special problems and that the Women’s movement is all “closed doorism” is completely and utterly ludicrous.

In this case the “negative example” comes from the CPA(ML). Their ignorance of the Women’s movement in turn breeds a fear of it. For some ’evil’ men in the leadership of the CPA(ML) the prospect of criticism from women active in the Women’s movement is something they fear. Such an attitude is the opposite of the communist outlook In Mao tsetung’s opinion:

I don’t consider it good for a person to be afraid of being abused. (vol. 5, p.347).

The CPA(ML) pamphlet says:

Undoubtedly the wave of feminism which swept the capitalist world in the 60’s and 70’s, although based upon genuine grievances, greatly clouded revolutionary perspectives. Great attention was paid to symptoms, but very little or no thought was given to correctly diagnosing the fundamental cause. Hence the movement floundered and lost course. (p.5)

There is some truth in this statement. The ruling class promotes sexism and degenerate “culture” in magazines, newspapers, films, TV etc. in order to make a profit and to divide the working class on a sexual basis. Half Way Houses and Rape Crisis Centres provide a necessary and essential service for women in the immediate sense. But unless we combine this struggle with the struggle against the causes of rape and the causes of men bashing women (which means a struggle against the ruling class whose degenerate “culture” promotes these things) then we won’t be getting to the heart of the matter and only putting band aids on the system.

But, unfortunately, the CPA(ML) in criticising one wrong tendency (i.e., reformism) makes the opposite error. The CPA(ML) pays great attention, are preoccupied , to the cause, but very little or no thought is given to correctly linking it with the symptoms.

The simple fact of the matter is that the CPA(ML) offers no support whatsoever to specific women’s demands and struggles. In the Party pamphlet defining their policy the only struggles they refer to positively are those that concern men and women equally:

Even so, throughout the years, countless numbers of women took their place in the general revolutionary struggles.

Here in Australia, many thousands took to the streets in the cause of Vietnam, against Fraser’s semi-fascist coup, against the attack upon Medibank, to mention just a few.

Many splendid young women emerged as leaders striving to master the ideology of Marxism-Leninism- Mao Tsetung Thought. (p.5)

As we see, no specific Women’s demands are referred to. In its 15 years of existence the CPA(ML) has never catered for the special problems of women.

As far as specific Women’s demands go the CPA(ML) practises abstinence. But just as abstinence generally does not work out in practice as a means of contraception, the CPA(ML) is finding that it doesn’t satisfy the political needs of progressive women and men either. How can a Party abstain from supporting specific Women’s demands that urgently affect millions of women in Australia, and expect to win their support? The ignorance of the CPA(ML) leadership on this question is truly amazing.

Of course, other groups that claim to be Marxist-Leninist do not behave like this at all. E.g., to take one American group, amongst many, ’The League for Proletarian Revolution (ML)’. They list a series of specific demands for women:

1. Equal pay for equal work.
2. Paid maternity leave with job guarantees.
3. Free day care services in community and workplaces.
4. Stop all discriminatory hiring and firing practices against women; stop the practice of assigning women the most menial and worst’, paid jobs.
5. Right of women to bear arms and exercise the right of self defence.
6. Stop forced sterilisations. Right to free and safe abortion.
7. Stop all attacks against women in education, mass media etc., pornography, degenerate culture etc.,
8. Keeping and putting into effect all protective legislation for women. (from ’Resistance’ Feb, 1977, Vol.8, no.2,p.1.)

The CPA(ML)’s failure to develop action around specific demands like this is absolute proof of its abject failure to come to grips with the Women Question.

The Reaction of the CPA (ML) to Criticism

Arising from the ’purity’, ignorance and the weakness of their position, the CPA(ML) is compelled to ridicule those who disagree with them and to lump them all together into a “hostile”, “bourgeois” category.

The CPA(ML) pamphlet says:

Working class women, like working class men consist of the advanced, intermediate and backward. To designate all working class women as ’backward’ is to fall into the bourgeois, revisionist trap as seeing matters from a sex angle and not from the point of view of the class. Great numbers of the Australian workforce now consist of women. A high proportion of Australian women are forced, even without proper support services to take their place on the production lines. Among them we find many advanced women who daily challenge the boss and lead splendid struggles. They will continue even more energetically in the future.

Their actions give the lie to the hostile Trotskyist trend expressed through some ideologically weak intellectuals which strives to penetrate the independence forces. This trend regards working women as backward, unable to understand the cause of their plight. It prefers to gather in closed left circles and talk about male oppression, by its actions looking down upon ordinary women as inferior, seeing itself as having nothing to learn from the masses.(p.6)

It is true that there is an increasing proportion of women who now work for wages (wage slaves as well as unpaid slaves) and there are advanced women “who daily challenge the boss and lead splendid struggles,” But the fact that women, like men, can be categorised into the politically advanced, middle and backward is no refutation at all to the general observation that on the whole women do tend to be less politically active than men.

Has the CPA(ML) in making its wide ranging observations about the state of the working class bothered to stop and consider matters closer to home, i.e., the state of the CPA(ML)? The public Chairperson and Vice-Chairpersons of the CPA(ML) are all men. Is that because it is “scientifically correct”? May we ask what % of women are on the Central Committee of the CPA(ML)? What % of women make up the membership of the CPA(ML)? Of course the CPA(ML) will not answer these questions. The answers should be too embarrassing to their thesis of even political involvement by the men and women of Australia.

In fact the CPA(ML) argument consists of nothing but fake and paternalistic flattery. They are saying – Look! Women are very advanced politically. So advanced in fact that they don’t have special problems, we don’t need to cater specifically for them.

What is this but a pathetic attempt to stop us all facing a problem in order to take steps to solve it?

In a society where the ruling class tries very hard to promote division on a sexual basis it is inevitable that both men and women will have special problems arising from one-sided social experience (as well as biological differences). This leads to the situation that while women, in general, may be less advanced on some questions (e.g., political and industrial involvement) also men, in general, may be less advanced on some questions too (e.g.. child care, housework, not to mention the Women’s Question!). But in the eyes of the CPA(ML) to make observations such as these is to “fall into the bourgeois, revisionist trap as seeing matters from a sex angle and not from the point of view of class”! The CPA(ML)’is forgetting that Marxism must be based on a concrete study of reality. Their idea of Marxism is that it is a dogmatic straight jacket into which they try to fit their preconceived and subjective ideas.

From the observation that women are generally less involved politically than men, there follows the question WHY ? In order to change the situation it is necessary for men and women to examine this question together. We don’t claim to have the answers yet.

But the CPA(ML) does not even allow themselves to observe the differences between men and women in our society. Hence they will not ask the question. Although they have existed for 15 years the CPA(ML) has not even begun to seriously consider the Women’s Question.

The danger of the CPA(ML) policy is twofold:

(i) That some will fall and have fallen under its influence and so become passive or hostile to just women’s struggles.
(ii) That by lumping all their opponents together and placing nasty labels on them (in this case “bourgeois”/“revisionist”, “Trotskyite” and “weak intellectual”) and by propagating all their views repeatedly in the name of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mao, they will drive good people away from the genuine Marxist-Leninist camp into the arms of the revisionist and Trotskyist camp. To combat this tendency we have stressed the revision of Lenin by the CPA (ML) on the Women’s question in this article.

The CPA(ML) has developed a pernicious habit of pinning labels on themselves and labels on others without explaining the meaning of the labels. They have quite clearly forgotten the meaning of Leninism.

Why does the CPA (ML) carry on like this?

The CPA(ML) has become increasingly dominated by paternalistic men who show no initiative on the Women’s Question through fear of releasing forces of rebellion that they cannot control.

The attitude of the CPA(ML) leadership is not one of putting trust in the forces of rebellion at all. Women have to come to them on the basis of joining the “independence struggle”. The concept is a “pure” and narrow one. Any forces that are suspected of contamination by ’feminism’ are not to be trusted and given a wide berth.

It is a simple fact that many men, in particular, are in ignorance on the Women Question.

Both the radical feminists and the CPA (ML) adopt policies to encourage the perpetuation of this ignorance. The radical feminists say: “Wo won’t have anything to do with men because they are the enemy.” The CPA(ML) says:

We won’t have anything to do with Women’s liberation because it is bourgeois.

Both policies, from opposite ends of the spectrum, encourage non involvement in the women’s struggle. Both policies encourage a self-contemplation, self-cultivation and an inward looking “ideological purity”.

It is easy, especially for men, under the pressures that already exist in society, combined with these pressures emanating from the “Left” to succumb, to cop out and not get involved.

But getting involved is only the starting point. There is a lot of ignorance on the Women’s Question. Those who continue under the influence of E.F. Hill will remain in ignorance. On the Women’s Question the leadership of the CPA(ML) has yet to begin!