We Seek Full Equality for Women


Introduction by Carole Boyce Davies: We (Still) Seek Full Equality!

As we com­mem­o­rate Clau­dia Jones’s 100th birth­day this year, it is fit­ting to repo­si­tion one of her most influ­en­tial essays, “We Seek Full Equal­ity for Women” (1949). Given cur­rent and ongo­ing dis­courses about lin­ger­ing inequal­ity for sev­eral sub­or­di­nated groups in the United States and Europe, the mantra of “still seek­ing full equal­ity” res­onates in chants like “Black Lives Mat­ter” and in the activism of LGBTQ groups. And indeed women are still seek­ing full equal­ity in all fields and spheres of life.

Jour­nal­ist, edi­tor, intel­lec­tual-activist, com­mu­nist the­o­rist, com­mu­nity leader and human rights advo­cate Clau­dia Vera Cum­ber­batch Jones (1915-1964) was born Feb­ru­ary 21, 1915 in Trinidad and Tobago. After years of mem­ber­ship begin­ning as a teenager, she became the only black woman on the cen­tral com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party USA and Sec­re­tary of the Women’s com­mis­sion in 1947. In that role, she orga­nized women’s groups across the United States and wrote a Women’s Rights column titled “Half the World” for The Daily Worker. A speech titled “Inter­na­tional Women’s Day and the Strug­gle for Peace” deliv­ered on Inter­na­tional Women’s Day in 1950 was cited as the “overt act” which led to her arrest, trial, con­vic­tion, and impris­on­ment for being a com­mu­nist in the United States. In Decem­ber 1955, she was deported to Eng­land because she was still then a Com­mon­wealth “sub­ject.” There, she became the founder of the first black news­pa­per in Lon­don, the West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News (WIG) in 1958 and devel­oped a praxis that bridged the United States and United King­dom, informed by the world pol­i­tics of decol­o­niza­tion. She orga­nized a par­al­lel March on Wash­ing­ton in 1963 and met world lead­ers like Mar­tin Luther King, Jr., Mao Tse-Tung, Nor­man Man­ley, Cheddi Jagan, and Jomo Keny­atta of Kenya.

For Clau­dia Jones, com­mu­nism pro­vided a the­o­ret­i­cal expla­na­tion for the treat­ment of oppressed black and work­ing class men and women. Clau­dia Jones is cred­ited with putting con­sis­tently on the plat­form of the Com­mu­nist Party the triple oppres­sion of black women based on their race, class, and gen­der and for pop­u­lar­iz­ing the triple rights call on behalf of work­ers, women, and black peo­ple in the United States through­out the 1940s and up to the mid-1950s. (See Car­ole Boyce Davies, Left of Karl Marx: The Polit­i­cal Life of Black Com­mu­nist Clau­dia Jones, Durham, N.C.: Duke Uni­ver­sity Press, 2008, for fur­ther dis­cus­sion).

“We Seek Full Equal­ity for Women” (1949) was pub­lished in the same year as her most well-known and cir­cu­lated essay “An End to the Neglect of the Prob­lems of Negro Women” (1949). I have described this essay as best cap­tur­ing Clau­dia Jones’s art of black left fem­i­nism. In it she iden­ti­fies the black woman’s place in the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist the­o­riza­tion of the mode of pro­duc­tion. While it begins with the idea of tak­ing up the his­tory of strug­gle of the Suf­frag­ists, she has­tens to describe how com­mu­nists were propos­ing to advance women’s rights. She sum­ma­rizes the basics of Marx­ist-Lenin­ist fem­i­nism, out­lin­ing the work that was tak­ing place in apply­ing this the­ory. She describes the orga­ni­za­tion of state branches of the Women’s Com­mis­sion and describes the Com­mu­nist Party USA as lead­ing the way to devel­op­ing a pro­gres­sive women’s move­ment. The essay explains the causes of the inequal­ity of women under cap­i­tal­ism and indi­cates that win­ning equal­ity was deter­mined by the extent to which the par­tic­u­lar “prob­lems, needs and aspi­ra­tions of women – as women” were addressed. Per­haps the most famous line in the essay, one often cited by Angela Davis, is that the “triply-oppressed sta­tus of [Black] women is a barom­e­ter of the sta­tus of all women, and that the fight for the full, eco­nomic, polit­i­cal and social equal­ity of the [Black] woman is in the vital self-inter­est of white work­ers, in the vital inter­est of the fight to real­ize equal­ity for all women.”

In 2015, a good 65 years after this essay was writ­ten, inequal­ity remains. “We Seek Full Equal­ity for Women” should there­fore be read again, and included as part of the com­mon library of thought on this sub­ject. 

 – Car­ole Boyce Davies (@Ca_Rule)

We Seek Full Equality for Women (1949)

Tak­ing up the strug­gle of the Suf­frag­ists, the Com­mu­nists have set new tasks, new objec­tives in the fight for a new sta­tus for women. The spe­cial value of Foster’s con­tri­bu­tion:

The lead­ing role of the Com­mu­nist Party in the strug­gle to eman­ci­pate women from male oppres­sion is one of the proud con­tri­bu­tions which our Party of Marx­ism-Lenin­ism, the Com­mu­nist Party, U.S.A., cel­e­brates on its thir­ti­eth anniver­sary.

Marx­ism-Lenin­ism exposes the core of the woman ques­tion and shows that the posi­tion of women in soci­ety is not always and every­where the same, but derives from woman’s rela­tion to the mode of pro­duc­tion.

Under cap­i­tal­ism, the inequal­ity of women stems from exploita­tion of the work­ing class by the cap­i­tal­ist class. But the exploita­tion of women cuts across class lines and affects all women. Marx­ism-Lenin­ism views the woman ques­tion as a spe­cial ques­tion which derives from the eco­nomic depen­dence of women upon men. This eco­nomic depen­dence as Engels wrote over 100 years ago, car­ries with it the sex­ual exploita­tion of women, the plac­ing of woman in the mod­ern bour­geois fam­ily, as the “pro­le­tariat” of the man, who assumes the role of “bour­geoisie.”

Hence, Marx­ist-Lenin­ists fight to free woman of house­hold drudgery, they fight to win equal­ity for women in all spheres; they rec­og­nize that one can­not ade­quately deal with the woman ques­tion or win women for pro­gres­sive par­tic­i­pa­tion unless one takes up the spe­cial prob­lems, needs and aspi­ra­tions of women – as women.

It is this basic prin­ci­ple that has gov­erned the the­ory and prac­tice of the Com­mu­nist Party for the last three decades.

As a result, our Party has chalked up a proud record of strug­gle for the rights of women. Amer­i­can lit­er­a­ture has been enhanced by the works of Marx­ists who inves­ti­gated the sta­tus of women in the U.S. in the ’30s. Its record is sym­bol­ized in the lives of such out­stand­ing women Com­mu­nists as Ella Reeve Bloor and Anita Whit­ney and oth­ers who are asso­ci­ated with the fight for women’s suf­frage, for the rights of the Negro peo­ple, for work­ing class eman­ci­pa­tion.

Our Party and its lead­er­ship helped stim­u­late the orga­ni­za­tion of women in the trade unions and helped activize the wives of work­ers in the great labor orga­niz­ing dri­ves; built house­wives’ coun­cils to fight against the high cost of liv­ing; taught women through the boy­cott and other mil­i­tant actions how to fight for the needs of the fam­ily; helped to train and mold women Com­mu­nist lead­ers on all lev­els, work­ing class women inspired by the con­vic­tions and ide­als of their class ­– the work­ing class.

A pio­neer in the fight for the orga­ni­za­tion of work­ing class women, our Party was the first to demon­strate to white women and to the work­ing class that the triply-oppressed sta­tus of Negro women is a barom­e­ter of the sta­tus of all women, and that the fight for the full, eco­nomic, polit­i­cal and social equal­ity of the Negro woman is in the vital self-inter­est of white work­ers, in the vital inter­est of the fight to real­ize equal­ity for all women.

But it remained for the con­tri­bu­tion of William Z. Fos­ter, National Chair­man of our Party, to sharpen the think­ing of the Amer­i­can Com­mu­nist Party on the woman ques­tion. Com­rade Fos­ter pro­jected in a deeper way the basic neces­sity for the work­ing class and its van­guard Party to fight the obsta­cles to women’s equal­ity, evi­denced in many anti-woman prej­u­dices, in the preva­lent ide­ol­ogy of male supe­ri­or­ity fos­tered by the monop­o­lists imbibed by the work­ing class men.

The essence of Foster’s con­tri­bu­tion is that it is nec­es­sary to win the masses of Amer­i­can women for the over-all strug­gle against impe­ri­al­ist war and fas­cism by pay­ing spe­cial atten­tion to their prob­lems and by devel­op­ing spe­cial strug­gles for their eco­nomic, polit­i­cal, and social needs. Bas­ing him­self upon the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist tenet that the inequal­ity of women is inher­ently con­nected with the exploita­tion of the work­ing class, Fos­ter called on the Party and the work­ing class to mas­ter the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist the­ory of the woman ques­tion, to improve our prac­ti­cal work on this ques­tion, and to cor­rect for­mer errors, errors of com­mis­sion and omis­sion with regard to this fun­da­men­tal ques­tion.

Foster’s spe­cial con­tri­bu­tion lies in his unique exposé of the mask placed on the sta­tus of women in every sphere in the U.S. by Amer­i­can impe­ri­al­ism. Com­rade Fos­ter exposed the bour­geois lie that women in the U.S. have achieved full equal­ity and that no fur­ther rights remain to be won. He shows that the ide­o­log­i­cal prop used by reac­tionary pro­pa­gan­dists to per­pet­u­ate false ideas of women’s ‘infe­ri­or­ity’ is to base their anti-social argu­ments as regards women on all kinds of pseudo-sci­en­tific assump­tions, par­tic­u­larly the field of biol­ogy.

Any under­es­ti­ma­tion of the need for a per­sis­tent ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle against all man­i­fes­ta­tions of mas­cu­line supe­ri­or­ity must there­fore be rooted out. If biol­ogy is falsely uti­lized by the bour­geois ide­ol­o­gists to per­pet­u­ate their false notions about women, Com­mu­nists and pro­gres­sives must fare boldly into the bio­log­i­cal sci­ences and enhance our ide­o­log­i­cal strug­gle against bour­geois ideas and prac­tices of male supe­ri­or­ity.

In order to meet the tasks pro­jected for a deeper under­stand­ing and mas­tery of the Marx­ist-Lenin­ist approach to the woman ques­tion a spe­cial Party Com­mis­sion on The­o­ret­i­cal Aspects of Work among Women was estab­lished.

Reflect­ing the great hunger for the­ory on the woman ques­tion on the part of Com­mu­nists and pro­gres­sives was the one day Con­fer­ence on Marx­ism and the Women Ques­tion held under the aus­pices of the Jef­fer­son School of Social Sci­ence held in June of this year. Nearly 600 women and men attended. Indica­tive, too, of how the Party is meet­ing its tasks in this sphere are the numer­ous cadre schools which have been held to facil­i­tate the train­ing of women for mass work among women and the train­ing of Com­mu­nist men on the woman ques­tion.

Some 10 Party women’s com­mis­sions now exist, which, under the lead­er­ship and guid­ance of the Party dis­trict orga­ni­za­tions, give atten­tion to work among women in the Party and in the mass orga­ni­za­tions. It is nec­es­sary to uti­lize the 30th anniver­sary of our Party to strengthen our mass and Party work and to turn the face of the entire Party toward this ques­tion.

This is nec­es­sary, first, because with­out mobi­liza­tion of the masses of women, par­tic­u­larly work­ing class and Negro women, the fight for peace against a third world war will not be suc­cess­ful. Amer­i­can women and their orga­ni­za­tions have given indi­ca­tions in var­ied ways, that they oppose the Atlantic Pact, and are fear­ful of the impli­ca­tions of the arms pact.

This under­stand­ing is nec­es­sary, sec­ondly, because of the grow­ing reac­tionary offen­sive against the civil rights of the Amer­i­can peo­ple, the out­stand­ing exam­ples of which is the indict­ment and trial of the 12 lead­ers of our Party before a jury hav­ing a major­ity of women.

Finally, this under­stand­ing is nec­es­sary because with­out root­ing our­selves among the masses of women, with­out build­ing the pro­gres­sive orga­ni­za­tions of women, such as the Con­gress of Amer­i­can Women, Women’s Divi­sion of the Pro­gres­sive Party, the Negro women’s orga­ni­za­tions, etc., and with­out orga­niz­ing spe­cial strug­gles for the demands of women, we can­not win the women against the reac­tionary influ­ences of the Roman Catholic hier­ar­chy, and the bour­geois ide­ol­o­gists.

By suc­cess­fully mas­ter­ing our the­ory of the woman ques­tion, orga­niz­ing masses of Amer­i­can women, and focus­ing atten­tion pri­mar­ily on the prob­lems and needs of work­ing class women, our Party can help usher in a new sta­tus for Amer­i­can women.

To achieve that end, we must win the women to an over-active fight against impe­ri­al­ist war and fas­cism. For, in the words of the great Dim­itroff, in his famous report, “The United Front Against Fas­cism”:

While fas­cism exacts most from youth it enslaves women with par­tic­u­lar ruth­less­ness and cyn­i­cism, play­ing on the most painful feel­ings of the mother, the house­wife, the sin­gle work­ing woman, uncer­tain of the mor­row. Fas­cism, pos­ing as a bene­fac­tor, throws the starv­ing fam­ily a few beg­garly scraps, try­ing in this way to sti­fle the bit­ter­ness aroused par­tic­u­larly among the toil­ing women, by the unprece­dented slav­ery which fas­cism brings them.

We must spare no pains to see that the women work­ers and toil­ers fight shoul­der to shoul­der with their class broth­ers in the ranks of the united work­ing class front and the anti-fas­cist people’s front.

In the spirit of the anti-fas­cist hero of Leipzig, let us reded­i­cate our­selves to the fight for the com­plete equal­ity of women.

Excerpted from Clau­dia Jones: Beyond Con­tain­ment, ed. Car­ole Boyce Davies (Ban­bury, UK: Ayebia Clarke Pub­lish­ing Ltd., 2011).

Author of the article

(1915-1964) was a Trinidad-born communist and feminist.