Women’s liberation is anti-capitalist struggle: lessons from Black Panther women

On March 8th, the Revolutionary Communist Party of Canada held an event in Surrey to commemorate International Working Women’s Day and highlight its origins in socialist feminist struggle. Laura Paul spoke on behalf of Bread, Roses, and Hormones, alongside speakers from the East Indian Defence Committee, the Revolutionary Student Movement, Surrey People Power, and Gabriela BC.

My name is Laura June Rose. I am here as a member of Alliance Against Displacement, as an organizer of the Bread, Roses and Hormones campaign, as a woman, and as a revolutionary communist. Thank you to the Revolutionary Communist Party for inviting me to your International Working Women’s Day event. It is an honor to be here among fellow radicals as a trans woman. I look forward to standing beside all of you here in the red feminist horizon that honors the contributions of working class trans women.

In celebration of International Working Women’s Day, I want to first say rest in power to all my trans sisters who have been gunned down by the police and those who have taken their lives because of the abuse we experience from the State, from our so-called friends and partners, and from all other misogynists. Deep in my heart lies the memory of revolutionaries like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera who dedicated their lives to their sisters and made the streets of New York a battleground for trans liberation. The history of these militant women is being distorted and used for bourgeois celebrations of queer capitalism and we must see this as a grave injustice to these beautiful anti-imperialists. I want to bring up two women who I feel never get the recognition they deserve as leaders in international communist revolution. Their names are Elaine Brown and Audrea Jones.

In the year of 1969-1970, chairman Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party (BPP) investigated the demographics of the BPP and found that the organization was comprised of 60% Black women. No other Black Power organization had this number of women in its ranks and no other women’s liberation organization had this number of black people in its ranks. Elaine Brown was the first and only woman to be the chair of the BPP. Audrea Jones was the founder of the BPP in Boston; later she moved to Oakland and opened free clinics for working class people – one of the heartbeats of the Black Power movement.

The BPP has been disparaged as a hyper-masculine movement that made no space for women. Surely Eldridge Cleaver’s misogynist proclamations and Huey Newton’s authorization of beating women have contributed to this perception. But to see the BPP as an exclusively misogynist space risks erasing the contributions of Brown, Jones, and other women within the BPP. Brown and Jones fought misogyny within and outside of the BPP ranks and encouraged men to see women’s liberation as central to both socialism and the end of white supremacy.

Women in the BPP served the community projects, were the teachers in the political education and battle training exercises, and were central to the operation of the Black Panther newsletter as artists, writers, and editors. While the men were in jail, because they were targeted by the pigs more often, women held up the daily activities of the organization. Women pushed the analysis to expose how women’s subjugation is integral to a gendered division of labor that upholds capitalist production and accumulation and justifies imperialist occupation and war. Without the “Pantherettes” there would be no Black Panther Party. Without Elaine Brown, the party would have collapsed; the Oakland chapter in particular would have been destroyed by the shotgun blows of the Oakland Police Department and the weaseling COINTELPRO. Without Audrea Jones’ leadership in creating free clinics, many revolutionary fighters would have not been well enough to fight for global justice for all working class people.

The reason I wish to focus on these two comrades is that I believe a woman’s place is in the revolution. As comrades from Mexico have stated, the Oaxaca commune fell in 2006 because men refused to do reproductive work, making everyone weak in struggle. This means a woman’s place in the revolution is beside the man, not beneath him. As Thomas Sankara, leader of the Burkina Faso revolution, said at an International Women’s Day Rally in 1987, “We do not talk of women’s emancipation as an act of charity or because of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the triumph of the revolution.”

This speaks to our times. In the current context of a rising right that is calling for strict traditional gender roles, anti-trans legislation, and a violent anti-Indigenous and anti-immigrant politic, we need to understand the powerful bond between class struggle, anti-colonial struggle, and gender liberation. The fascist resurgence on Turtle Island is an unabashed racist crisis of settler masculinity that draws upon the spontaneous ultra-violence of the mob as well as the organized repressive state apparatus to destroy us. In 2019, we can learn from BPP women and our other revolutionary foremothers who were uncompromisingly anti-pig, anti-capitalist, and anti-racist.

Bread and roses for all, and hormones too!

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