Radical books - Feminist writings - Socialist theory - Race liberation - Queer activism

Socialist Feminism: First Decade
Order from:

Red Letter Press
Mail Order


Socialist Feminism: The First Decade, 1966-76

by Gloria Martin

Records the forging of the first Marxist feminist party in history -- the Freedom Socialist Party. Set in the tumultuous upsurges of the 1960s and '70s, Gloria Martin vividly describes the eruption of the women's liberation movement amidst the antiwar and civil rights struggles.

$8.95, 244 pages ISBN 0-932323-00-6

Martin documents early lesbian and gay coalitions, the fight to legalize abortion in Washington State, radical labor organizing, community mobilizations against police brutality and poverty, campus upsurges, and the growth of the FSP's sister organization, Radical Women. She scathingly critiques the role of the Socialist Workers Party and other Left groups typified by sexism and opportunism. To them, she contrasts the Freedom Socialist Party's multi-issue focus on reaching those most oppressed as workingclass people of color, women, and sexual minorities. From the on-the-ground perspective of a seasoned organizer, Martin probes with a sharp scalpel the internal conflicts in the movements for social change.

This is a story of years of intense work by radical women and men. It is a chronicle, a reference, an analysis, a judgment, and a guidebook. Its central message is inescapable: socialist feminism as a theme and strategy has never been more urgently needed than it is today.

Reader Comments
Read Introduction by Karen Brodine

Here's what readers are saying:

"... this book demonstrates forcefully that socialist feminism was not just a fad, but is a visionary politics of tomorrow." MITSUYE YAMADA, feminist poet and teacher at Cypress College, Irvine, California

"Gloria Martin's analysis ... describes a scenario of multi-dimensional change; from the heart to the workplace, from the fields to the schools, from the initial words by lovers of humanity to the global liberation of all." JUAN FELIPE HERRERA, Chicano poet, author of Exiles of Desire

"... a must for union activists ... linking racism and sexism with economic exploitation and describing the central role women play in unions -- from organizing on the worksite and walking the picket line to winning in court." CAROL TARLEN, editor of Real Fiction, member AFSCME 2318, San Francisco

"Magnificent ... extraordinarily honest, productively self-critical and powerfully inspiring. No other feminist organization has been so committed to the necessity of a national and global multi-issue movement. Gives me great hope." DR. CATHY DUNSFORD, writer and Pacific lesbian feminist activist, New Zealand.

This book is unique. Little has been written about socialist feminism, and almost nothing that affirms it.

Feminist academicians and careerist feminists make doomsday proclamations about the "bad marriage" of Marxism and feminism.

The Stalinists, exemplified by the group known currently as the Trend or Line of March, insist that socialist feminism is an impossibility because feminism is intrinsically "bourgeois" and sexism is a secondary issue. Various other leftists think similarly.

In contrast, says this book, "Cancel the funeral: socialist feminism lives!" Indeed, socialist feminism has survived and thrived, especially over the past twenty years.

Set in the tumultuous upsurges of the 1960s and early 1970s, this book is charged with the audacity, verve and optimism of those times. Author Gloria Martin vividly describes the eruption of the women's liberation movement from the seething cauldron of the antiwar and civil rights struggles, when tens of thousands of youth, people of color, and radicals took to the streets to demand an end to war, racism, poverty and oppression, and the women who were imbued with the anti-establishment cast of these movements went on boldly to declare war on patriarchy, sexism, and male privilege on the Left and in the system.

The mood was passionate and the impact was astounding. Women brought the revolution home and irrevocably altered the lifestyles and the social views of the country.

Socialist Feminism: The First Decade is a document of innovative thought and practice, a story about years of intense work by committed women radicals. It is a chronicle, a reference, an analysis, a critique and a guidebook to be savored and used again and again. It imparts crucial lessons about how to build coalitions, united fronts, and broad alliances against the right wing. It illuminates the rocky road to exposing the petty bourgeois liberals and red-baiters who mislead and derail so many causes. And it records with zest and pride the historic forging of the first socialist feminist political party in history: the Freedom Socialist Party.

Participants in the turmoil of the 1960s will find the book a fascinating document of those volatile years. Today's activists will use it as a rich resource, and as an organizer's handbook. Radicals will refer to it as a practical and theoretical manual on why and how to build a revolutionary party. And just about anybody with a bent for social history and an interest in political issues and personalities will discover that this book, with its rich socialist feminist point of departure, opens a new path toward understanding the future, because it reveals the historical connection and the ideological linkage among all the apparently disparate movements for freedom.

The book has style and energy. Contrary to the stereotype of radicals as grim Bolshevik machines, the cast of characters emerges as lively and colorful. Martin recounts in sensitive and human terms the contradictions, excitement, devotion, despair, furies, and comedy, both subtle and slapstick, of day-to-day organizing.

With sharp humor and a sometimes caustic wit, she lampoons the foibles and fallacies of the people who clustered into and around the movements, from the lesbian separatists who considered graffiti spraypainting to be the highest form of political debate, to the sexist leftists who pompously lectured on the "woman question" but bristled and duelled in the face of real-life women's leadership. Martin doesn't hesitate to characterize the "motley collection of whiners, windbags,. Napoleons, counter-culturists and worrywarts" who tormented the real shakers and changers.

The book plunges and lifts the reader on a rollercoaster ride of thought and action, of political exploration, of experiencing the sensations of joy and discipline that come from the practice of collective leadership. Martin tells of teaching, learning, writing, speaking, cooking, cleaning, decorating, picketing, and all the clashes and conciliations that propel movements forward. The book is a recipe for political action, a recipe that features wonderfully blended spices, solid staples, vitamins, and a dash of vinegar.

With the authority of experience and accomplishment, Martin contends that socialist feminism is intrinsic to revolutionary change. She demonstrates how socialist feminism, in theory and life, melds women's demand for emancipation with labor's drive for an end to worker exploitation; how socialist feminism connects every mass movement to the class struggle and reveals how all forms of oppression are interrelated by virtue of their common root in capitalism; how socialist feminism guarantees that the leadership of women, people of color, and lesbians and gays will never again be shoved into the background of any movement, because the added measure of need and desperation inherent in those at the bottom engenders the added militancy so essential to every movement.

Certainly the book deals with philosophy and theory, yet it never dwindles into a dry replay of some distant historical mirage. The book radiates the energy and good sense that are bred by revolutionary optimism and by the interventionism and steady confrontation of opponents that mark off the committed from the dilettantes.

The book began as Gloria Martin's organizer's report to the Tenth Anniversary Conference of the Freedom Socialist Party in 1976. The edited report was published as a mimeographed, bulletin-sized document in 1978. The supply was quickly depleted and the demand for the book grew more strident with every passing year. How apt and welcome, then, is this new edition, in book format, for a new generation of militants.

Meet the Author

Gloria Martin, age 69, is a lifelong radical and a pioneering revolutionary feminist.

She was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1916 and raised in Asheville, North Carolina. She joined the Young Communist League in her early 20s and later left it, disenchanted by the infamous Stalin-Hitler pact, the tortuous and unprincipled twists and turns dictated by the CP bureaucracy, and the secondary role allocated to party women.

Stifled by Southern racism, bigotry, sexism (and the weather!), Martin moved to Seattle in 1950, where she plunged into civil rights and civil liberties organizing. She was one of the early staff members of the anti-poverty program in the 1960s and helped initiate the first abortion rights campaign in the country, which occurred in Washington State. In 1966, as a working mother of eight children (she now has eleven grandchildren), she and Mary Louise Williams, a Black woman and the first community organizer in the anti-poverty program in Seattle, formed Aid to Dependent Children Motivated Mothers to rally welfare mothers in defense of their rights. Martin also organized the first labor union for anti-poverty workers.

Martin initiated and coordinated a pioneering class on Women and Society at Seattle's "Free University," a community alternative to the University of Washington. The classes were a catalyst for a productive combination of Old Left Trotskyists and New Left feminists.

The freshness and audacity of the New Left, coupled with the theoretical grounding and practical experience of the Old Left women, produced a focus on serious and committed politics. In 1967 a group of representatives of both tendencies issued a call for a radical, anti-capitalist, mass organization of women to develop and advocate women's leadership and to espouse a revolutionary program and strategy to solve the "woman question." Martin worked alongside Clara Fraser, founder and theorist of the Freedom Socialist Party, and Susan Stern from Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) to begin the organization: Radical Women. RW is today the country's oldest socialist feminist organization, with branches in major cities in the U.S., a branch in Australia, and supporters in Great Britain, Ireland, Europe, and Latin America.

After many years of collaboration with Fraser and her colleagues in the Seattle branch of the Socialist Workers Party, Martin supported the branch's split from the SWP and re-constitution into the Freedom Socialist Party. Martin joined the FSP, having at last found a party that expressed her own gut-level commitment to feminism, civil rights, principled politics, and organizational democracy. She later served as the FSP organizer for five years, presiding over the period of the party's leap into a national organization.

New Times, Old Problems

Today, halfway through the 1980s, Martin's book offers significant help in coming to grips with current conditions and in seizing these troubled new times.

Reflecting worldwide economic and political crisis, a political polarization is deepening in the United States. The right wing gathers strength--but so do the movements of the oppressed and their supporters. The U.S. government, intent on rewriting history to obliterate its lessons, tries to reconstruct the Vietnam era on a false foundation so as to erase our still vivid memory of the massive popular opposition to that terrible war. A vital aspect of this book's importance lies in Martin's analysis of the Vietnam antiwar movement in all its strengths and weaknesses.

She writes about the identity and differences in the antiwar, feminist, lesbian/gay, and people of color movements, and sets the record straight on the role of the Left parties and tendencies of the time. She exposes the source of the deep rifts and contradictions which hovered beneath the surface only to burst forth and tear the movements apart, destroying most of their best leaders.

These same contradictions confound and divide today's movements, and the same questions must be answered:

What is the proper role of women, of feminism, in the leadership of the various movements?

What is the proper role of people of color? Of lesbians and gays?

Should issues be addressed one at a time, or at once in a multi-issue approach?

Should radicals work openly or covertly in the movements?

How do we fight against reformism, and for revolution, while advocating and utilizing reforms?

What is the role of the labor bureaucracy in holding back or spurring the working class?

How will we decipher the meaning of specific international issues as they arise, and how do we orient toward the question of revolution in the United States? Is a party needed? Does democratic centralism work?

The answers, in theory and practice, which the Left and various social movements adopt will determine the matter of our survival as radicals--and the survival of the human race.

The Lost Legacy of the Left

Martin evaluates with clear eyes and reasoned pen the checkered role of radicals in the 1960s and 1970s.

She claims that it was their responsibility to be forthrightly radical rather than to tail-end the movements and/or fall into single-issue reformism:

The FSP stand was openly socialist from the outset. We not only connected Vietnam to imperialism, capitalism and class struggle, we urged the antiwar movement to open itself up to include representatives ot the Black and Chicano struggles, and women's movement. We stressed the need to reach workers and unionists ... We emphasized the economic, class roots of war, and proposed a program for uniting all the disinherited into a political movement for socialism that would end all injustice.

Martin exposes the vacillating and opportunist politics of the Communist Party, the International Socialists, and the Maoists. She sharply criticizes the Socialist Workers Party (the Trotskyist party from which the Freedom Socialist Party split in 1966 over the SWP's growing conservatism, anti-feminism, and crass opportunism in the Black struggle and with the antiwar leadership).

Her analysis has been totally and all too tragically confirmed by the stunning degeneration of the SWP in the '70s and '80s, marked by its infamous and ill-fated "turn toward heavy industry." This debacle culminated in the shameless abandonment of the SWP's bedrock principle of Permanent Revolution, Lenin and Trotsky's doctrine that revolution demands a workers' state to achieve unfulfilled bourgeois democratic tasks and pave the way for socialism.

The SWP's turn toward the white male aristocracy of labor was a turn away from women workers and minority race workers. (The party had always been too nervous and fearful to support the gay rights movement.) It was a fundamental retreat from revolutionary politics as well, for at the heart of the Trotskyist transitional program is the understanding that the most oppressed are the fiercest fighters and the most committed leaders, whose involvement is crucial to the health and success of the march to revolution and socialism.

Contrary to its long and proud tradition of democratic centralism, the SWP over the years became reduced to the point where debate and minority opinion were not only not treasured, but were reviled. With no more than a cursory phone call, 40-year members and leaders are now purged from the party to which they devoted their lives. The SWP became completely submerged into reformism in the labor and mass movements, and it displays a most crass opportunism in the international arena, marked by spasmodic convulsions in theory and tactics. As Martin wrote:

Any organization incapable of grappling with the intrinsically linked issues in this epoch of imperialist decay--when all the unmet needs of all the exploited people are becoming inexorably intertwined in one consolidated demand for basic social change--any such benighted organization is not long for this world.

The Key to Revolution

Campuses are once again coming alive. Protests against South African apartheid and U.S. intervention in Latin America, and faculty/staff labor organizing, herald a new day of raised consciousness. And in the cities at large, the demonstrations are reminiscent of the early period of the Vietnam days of rage.

Reminiscent, and yet different, for the protests are on a higher level. The links among campus, community, labor, the social movements, progressive professionals, and even the churches, are stronger, more readily apparent. One reason for this is that two more decades of the feminist movement have elapsed, and the older women, as well as the children of the '60s feminists, will not tolerate being relegated to the back burner while macho males strut and posture on the stage.

And more and more, men are taking up feminism as their own struggle.

The term "multi-issue," moreover, is much more widely understood today than when the FSP and Radical Women first insisted on its importance. One glance at the banners of today's demonstrations reveals a diverse world of issues expressed in a common action.

Another key change is that the people of color movements increasingly feature the strong voices of lesbians, gays, and feminists of color. And the labor movement, despite severe attacks by the government and bosses, and its own multitude of contradictions, displays a rising militancy, especially among its most oppressed sectors: the workers of color, women workers, lesbian and gay workers, and political radicals.

There has never been a better time for the vibrant ideas of socialist feminism, the ideas explored in this book. The messages and lessons of socialist feminism have never been more urgent. As Martin writes:

The FSP's program, like Lenin's, speaks to the needs and demands of all the exploited and oppressed ... workers, women, ethnic and sexual minorities, the poor, the aged, and the ignored. An interracial, intersexual, pro-workingclass mass movement, unified around the complementary needs and demands of minorities, women, labor and gays, would challenge the basic foundations of the system.

This is the key to revolution.

This book confidently guides us in the use of that key. All power to revolutionary confidence!

Karen Brodine,
Seattle, Washington, February 1986