Women as Reason: 60 years of News & Letters, the women’s dimension

From the January-February 2015 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon,
Managing Editor

In 1969 the Women’s Liberation Movement was less than a decade old and I had been an activist for two years in Detroit, Mich. Then, Detroit was a thriving working-class city with a large Black population—a demographic that drew the Left, every tendency: Trotskyist, Maoist, Stalinist, academic. Every one of them came to our “Independent Women’s Liberation” literature table in a Wayne State University building, to lecture us that Women’s Liberation was a diversion from revolution. It didn’t matter if their cause was stopping the Vietnam war, Black liberation, or anti-imperialism; all acted as if women were not a part of what they were doing, and that fighting for women’s freedom could wait, wait, WAIT!

There isn’t room here to tell all the stories of Leftist abuse—from having to, literally, fight to speak from the podium at rallies, to having men screaming in our faces that we “middle-class bitches” were not oppressed and tossing dirt and mud at us at demonstrations. When someone from News and Letters Committees came to our table, I expected the same.

MEETING PHILOSOPHY

Instead she asked about the demonstration against the Miss America Pageant in Atlantic City and invited me to write about it in the pages of News & Letters. Unlike any other existing Left organization, this one had been founded and was headed by a woman, Raya Dunayevskaya. At their meetings I heard Black and Brown working women speak of what they were thinking and doing, something rare in a university-based women’s movement. Interested in freedom and revolution, I knew the thoughts and actions of those who experience all the limitations of this society were vitally important. I met Dunayevskaya and Marxist-Humanist philosophy that was so difficult for me to understand that sometimes only a phrase—like “the leap to freedom is from necessity”—would strike a chord. While not understanding Hegel, I could feel what it meant to make such a leap, change one’s life completely, not because you wanted to, but because you had to.

Picture from the 1969 demonstration against Miss America in Atlantic City, NJ. Credit to Jo Freeman, http://www.uic.edu/orgs/cwluherstory/ jofreeman/photos/MissAm/ MissAm01.jpg

The philosophy was evident in the organization, for example, in the fact that the 1956 founding Constitution singled out women who—along with workers, Blacks and youth—are fighting for “totally new relations and for a fundamentally new way of life.” The changes that the Women’s Liberation Movement was inspiring the organization to make, made real the concept that “the movement from practice is itself a form of theory” and that it was unseparated from the movement from theory reaching to philosophy. In August 1970 News & Letters created a page in each issue for articles from and about the women’s movement.

WOMEN KEY FROM THE BEGINNING

This was not a new development. From the organization’s beginning in 1955, women were participants, thinkers and writers. The paper began with four women columnists: Ethel Dunbar, a Black working woman whose column, “Way of the World,” persisted into the 1970s; white workers Jerry Kegg and Angela Terrano, whose column was titled “Working for Independence”; and Raya Dunayevskaya, whose “Two Worlds” column was at first published with no signature.

CELEBRATING 60 YEARS

Throughout 2015, we will observe the 60th Anniversary of the only Marxist-Humanist paper in the world by reprinting articles and other items that show how philosophy, unseparated from the movement from practice, has manifested itself in News & Letters. Anyone can see for themselves, as all the issues are available on our website: www.newsandletters.org.

In this issue we reproduce the notice we printed asking for discussion on changing the slogan on the masthead from Marx’s statement that “The root of mankind is man” since several Women’s Liberationists indicated that we didn’t feel that slogan included us. We also reprint an article about Njeri, a Kenyan woman active in the freedom movement there, as well as a short article from Jerry Kegg—all and more in an eight-page newspaper.

From the October 1970 News & Letters

From the October 1970 News & Letters

Please let us hear your thoughts about these historical signposts as well as suggestions for ideas and practice for today and our future. It’s not as if the problems we faced in the mid-1960s have disappeared. The Left still tells women to wait; much of it is still wedded to vanguardism; the voices of those struggling for freedom are now quoted as the basis for others’ theories but are not comprehended as a form of theory; and to too many revolution means a change in leadership or shallow economic reforms when what we’re aiming for is a new society based on totally new human relationships. Which is why a philosophy—Marxist-Humanism—is still of the essence.

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