Women take the lead against world retrogression

March 8, 2017

From the March-April 2017 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

Even before all the litter had been cleared from U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, the gigantic Women’s March on Washington—and, it turns out, around the world—revealed a new reality.

Never in history was the rejection of a just elected president—and elected only by the anti-democratic electoral college, not by the actual number of votes cast—so immediate and so overwhelming. (See “Democracy in the streets votes Trump out!” Jan.-Feb. 2017 N&L.) The massive demonstrations that erupted worldwide were not only a rejection of Trump, but also of the rise of fascism from the U.S. to India and from Turkey to Britain and Germany.


Women in Chicago on Jan. 21, 2017, took off and marched on their own through downtown as the crowd was so large that the march itself was cancelled.

Women in Chicago on Jan. 21, 2017, marched on their own through downtown as the crowd was so large that the march itself was cancelled but people marched anyway.

That these marches were overwhelmingly made up of women is not only because women took the initiative to call and plan them; it is also because the war against women is real, it is worldwide, it is deadly, and we are committed to fighting back.

To Trump’s inhumanity and lies, the Women’s Marches expressed a humanism that demanded we see the human family for what it is: people of color, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, the poor, disabled, old and young. While the marches were majority white, tens of thousands of people of color marched, showing—as they have for decades—that they are not just a “part” of the movement, but its lifeblood and brains.

It is no accident that the Women’s March came on the heels of Black Lives Matter and the Arab Spring. Black Lives Matter taught the power of a particular struggle as a way to make real what freedom has to mean for everyone. The Arab Spring showed that history is not made by “great men,” but by ordinary people who, when they come together, can create real democracy in the streets, bring down dictators and transform the world.


That the world needs transformation was clear in the first few days and weeks of Trump’s reign. Every move he’s made, every appointment, every declaration or paper signed reveals a selfish mind, hostile to empathy with others and more than willing to prop up capitalism no matter who is destroyed. One of his very first moves was not only to reinstate the deadly global gag rule, but to make it worse. He expanded it from banning any organization that even mentions abortion from receiving U.S. international family planning funds—about $600 million—to include “global health assistance furnished by all departments or agencies,” about $9 billion.

This means that international non-government organizations (NGOs) that work on issues like the Zika virus, maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS, nutrition, tuberculosis, Ebola and other diseases, etc., will now have their funds drastically cut. When access to family planning organizations is destroyed, when health organizations are muzzled and cannot even discuss abortion, numerous studies show it means more abortions, not less—abortions that are often illegal, boosting maternal death and illness. The global gag rule kills women, and Trump has now guaranteed that even more will die.

As fast as one could take a breath, more outrages were perpetrated, often targeting the most vulnerable among us. For some they are a death sentence.

On Feb. 1 thousands protested the University of California-Berkeley’s College Republicans’ guest speaker, the racist, sexist, transphobic Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos was to inaugurate a campaign against allowing the University to continue as a sanctuary campus that protects immigrant students. Photo: Urszula Wislanka.

On Feb. 1 thousands protested the University of California-Berkeley’s College Republicans’ guest speaker, the racist, sexist, transphobic Milo Yiannopoulos. Yiannopoulos was to inaugurate a campaign against allowing the University to continue as a sanctuary campus that protects immigrant students. Photo: Urszula Wislanka for News & Letters.

A renewed effort by Republicans to gut or completely eliminate the U.S. family planning program Title X, a program that prevents a million unplanned pregnancies each year and much more.

Likely defunding Violence Against Women Act programs and services, including services for survivors of sexual violence.

The nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, who would vote to end legal abortion, holds extremely conservative views that threaten women’s access to healthcare and reproductive rights—as did his ruling in the Hobby Lobby case—as well as workers’ rights and the separation of church and state.

The promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, causing eight million women to lose insurance coverage; two thirds of them are women of color, and women on Medicaid would suffer the most.

The mandate for employer-sponsored health insurance plans to cover contraception with no co-pay is now in serious danger of being repealed, as is the interpretation that contraception is preventive care and therefore covered by insurance. Trump aims to defund Planned Parenthood, which in 2014 provided 3.6 million contraceptive services, almost triple the 1.3 million provided by other clinics.

Declaring war on immigrants and refugees—most of whom are women, children and families—by declaring that anyone without papers, or with any kind of infraction, no matter how petty, is a criminal and should be deported.

Appointing known racist and anti-abortion extremist Jeff Sessions as Attorney General. He is unlikely to target or prosecute the real terrorist threat in the U.S.: anti-abortion fanatics who have killed, bombed and burnt, and whose foaming-at-the-mouth followers mob and terrorize women going into healthcare facilities.


There is fightback worldwide, especially when it comes to reproductive justice. Lilianne Ploumen, Netherlands’ minister of foreign trade and development cooperation, created “She Decides,” an NGO dedicated to raising money for groups affected by Trump’s gag rule. As we go to press nine countries are in support of She Decides, with ten more committed to attending a meeting in March to figure out how to raise the money needed to make up what the global gag rule has taken away.

That women suffer and struggle worldwide is a fact. Women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are murdered and raped by government forces as well as by those the soldiers are fighting. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s regime gave the green light to domestic violence, downgrading “battery within the family” from a criminal offense to an administrative one—this in a country where studies show that almost 40 women a day die from injuries inflicted by husbands or partners. (See “Women WorldWide,” p. 2.)

Not unexpectedly, women in countries at war suffer dreadfully, as they do now in Yemen (see Editorial “Yemen as world’s future?” p. 1), Iraq and Afghanistan. Women in Syria were on the front lines when the Syrian revolution first began as part of the Arab Spring. They are also suffering both in their country and as refugees in camps in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and elsewhere and they are still fighting back (see “Syrian women as force and revolutionary Reason,” Jan.-Feb. 2017 N&L).

As they were in 2015, Chinese feminists were attacked by their government, who shut down the website of Feminist Voices for 30 days for daring to mention that women in other countries are calling for a mass strike on International Women’s Day, March 8.


Participant in the Women March in Chicago, Jan. 21, 2017. Photo: Terry Moon for News & Letters

Participant in the Women March in Chicago, Jan. 21, 2017. Photo: Terry Moon for News & Letters.

That there is an international women’s liberation movement (WLM) present in every country on earth is not new. What is new is the creative ways women are using the power of social media to inform each other of our struggles worldwide and as an organizing tool.

Two events have galvanized women globally. One was what women did in Poland on Oct. 13, 2016 (see “Polish women show path forward,” Nov.-Dec. 2016, N&L). Tens of thousands of women and their supporters, dressed in black, took to the streets in over 60 cities and engaged in a general strike while students skipped classes. They said “No!” to the Polish parliament’s plans to worsen an already draconian anti-abortion law. The new law would allow legal abortions only if the woman’s life was “directly threatened.”

The right-wing Polish leaders were so traumatized by the women’s anger and militancy that they backed down on what they had expected to be a done deal. What they feared was revolution and the ideas of the demonstrators—their desire for new human relations.

The other event was the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington (see “Democracy in the streets votes Trump out!” and “Inauguration of neo-fascism faces widespread revolt,” Jan.-Feb. 2017 N&L) and sister marches held on every continent, sometimes several in a country—at least 30 in Canada.

From Paris, France, to Nairobi, Kenya, from Kolkata, India, to Belgrade, Serbia, and from Durban, South Africa, to Melbourne, Australia, women and men let their voices be heard loud and clear: “Love trumps hate!” “Our bodies, our lives, our right to decide!” signs with graphics depicting a Muslim, Black, and Hispanic woman titled “We the people” were ubiquitous as were anti-Trump signs.

The call for the “Women’s March on London” proclaimed “We unite and stand together for the dignity and equality of all peoples, for the safety and health of our planet and for the strength of our vibrant and diverse communities. We will come together in the spirit of democracy, honouring the champions of human rights who have gone before us.”

Even before the unprecedented nature of these marches was known, women in Argentina and several Latin American countries were in contact over local femicides. Women in Poland reached out and women in many countries came together and agreed on calling a worldwide women’s strike for March 8, International Women’s Day. (We look forward to what transpires on March 8, but because we must go to press on March 6, we will report on March 8 events in the May-June issue.)

Planners of the strike say they were inspired by a strike by women in Iceland. On Oct. 24, 1975, 90% of Iceland’s women struck their jobs to “protest wage discrepancy and unfair employment practices.” They brought the country to a standstill and 25,000 women (there were only 220,000 people in all of Iceland then) rallied in Reykjavik. A second action that inspired the strike was the mass protests of the women in Poland on Oct. 13 mentioned previously. (See “Women WorldWide” on p. 2 for more on the origins of the Women’s Strike.)


Women’s determination to transform a crushing reality reveals the dialectic in life. The dialectics of revolution can be understood as self-development through contradiction. In our world women experience the contradiction of knowing that we are full human beings and yet are treated as things—abused, raped, murdered, our bodies and lives controlled by others. What the massive marches and the determination to keep the movement going show is women negating that sexist, racist, heterosexist, capitalist reality and demanding a different society.

Moreover, women are half the world’s people and they experience multiple contradictions because they are of color, are workers, youth, disabled, Lesbian, Transgender, gender non-conforming, and attributes we have yet to recognize and name. Thus a worldwide women’s movement has within it a revolutionary world transformative potential.

Karl Marx asked: What does “wealth” mean when it is stripped of its capitalistic meaning? Part of his answer was that kind of “wealth” is “the universality of individual needs, capacities, pleasures, productive forces etc….The absolute working-out of his and her creative potentialities…Where he or she does not reproduce themselves in one specificity, but produces their totality? Strives not to remain something he or she has become, but is in the absolute movement of becoming?”

Today’s women’s movement is experiencing what it means to be transformed by a freedom movement, to be “in the absolute movement of becoming”—just ask anyone who marched in Chicago, Washington, London, New York, etc.

The task is to make explicit the humanist desire in the movement so that it knows itself, and acknowledges that we can never be satisfied with some paltry electoral victory, knowing now how easily those “victories” can be swept away in the next election. What is necessary is a revolution in permanence that doesn’t stop with the simple overthrow of someone like Trump, but is based on those humanist instincts, to make real what we know a human being can be.

Explore the Archives of Raya Dunayevskaya

As an activist with the Women’s Liberation Movement from its beginnings, Raya Dunayevskaya contributed an essay on “The Women’s Liberation Movement as Reason and as Revolutionary Force” to the anthology Notes on Women’s Liberation in 1970, and a special Appendix, “Women as Thinkers and as Revolutionaries,” to the pamphlet Working Women for Freedom in 1976, following a series of six lectures she gave at the Wayne State University Center for Adult Education for International Women’s Year. Her writings on Women’s Liberation were translated into Farsi for a pamphlet issued by Iranian women revolutionaries for International Women’s Day, 1980.

To order your copy of Rosa Luxemburg, Women's Liberation, and Marx's Philosophy of Revolution, click here.

To order your copy of Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution, click here.

With the first publication of Karl Marx’s Ethnological Notebooks, Dunayevskaya singled out the relationship of this last work to Marx’s early Humanist Essays that took up the Man/Woman relationship. She developed this in her third major work, Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution.

Dunayevskaya is one of the rare women who founded her own revolutionary organization and she did it at the height of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt of communists. She led News and Letters Committees from its beginning in 1955 until her death in 1987. She also founded and then continued to deepen a unique philosophy, Marxist-Humanism.

In the process she corresponded with the women in her organization and with women revolutionaries worldwide including Adrienne Rich (who wrote the Foreword to Rosa Luxemburg, Women’s Liberation, and Marx’s Philosophy of Revolution), Natalia Trotsky, Maria Barreno, Selma James, Grace Lee Boggs, Tatyana Mamonova, Phyllis Ntantala, Gloria I. Joseph, Frigga Haug, Janet Afary, Sheila Rowbotham, Meridel Le Sueur—and many more.

To order the Guide to the Raya Dunayevskaya collection click here.

To order the Guide to the Raya Dunayevskaya collection click here.

In this Women’s History Month you can explore for yourself the Raya Dunayevskaya Archives at: www.rayadunayevskaya.org and meet one of history’s most extraordinary revolutionary women.

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