. . . . so (this time) I ambled over to the Loyola campus for a talk on “Women and Socialism” March 31. It was a gathering of neighborhood socialists, the Rogers Park Chapter of the Chicago Socialists, who meet Thursdays, 6:30 pm, at Willye B White Park, 1610 W. Howard Street. (There is also a Loyola branch of the International Socialists, FYI.)
Several references were made to this group being “revolutionary” socialists, which caught my attention as something I remembered from my reporting days in the early ’70s, when demonstrations had not yet petered out, as at the old McCormick Seminary across from the Seminary Restaurant in Lincoln Park, and at Northwestern in Evanston.
Speaker for this meeting, Sharon Smith, wrote the book, Women and Socialism Class, Race, and Capital, which had been praised by a U. of Texas-Austin professor as offering a “valuable and uncommon perspective on the oppression and liberation of women.”
On this night Smith presented the 1917 Bolshevik victory in Russia and other Marxist solutions as the model of how to release women from the bondage of monogamy-throttled capitalism.
Keenly disposed to be educated in these matters, I made my way over to Loyola, a mile or so from our apartment in Andersonville. It was the eve of the Chicago teachers union’s one-day wildcat strike. I wanted to hear about socialism. There’s a lot of that going around these days, as I have said; so what the hey? I decided I’d like to know more.
The 90-minute session was in a classroom, I assumed rented for the occasion, or made available as a good will gesture to the ‘hood. I got there just before the 6:30 start time, sat in the back, followed by a young guy in a ball cap, late 20s, I’d say, who took a chair to my right and chatted me up.
The author had an earlier book, about “working-class radicalism,” he told me. I nodded “Oh” in appreciation. Then the speaker lady was introduced by a very pleasant young woman in her 20s, who called the speaker’s book “amazing.”
Smith began. All here are for Planned Parenthood, she assumed, laying the groundwork, and “fed up with fucking contempt for women,” which she called “a disease.”
Her attention was to women in general, yes. Hillary Clinton, for instance, has been “oppressed,” yes, “but nothing like the poor and women of color.” Supplying particulars, she concluded with “and the list goes on. It makes your head spin.”
In general, women have been “glorified” as homemakers, she said. This ideal has been “imposed on girls.” Opposing this “nuclear family” ideal is “the Marxist viewpoint,” rebutting as it does “the Christian-based matrimony until death do us part” ideal.
Not so the prehistoric “hunters and gatherers,” for whom men and women shared each other without marital bonds, she said. (Try this for a more complete discussion of this matter.) But then came the first “class society” — ancient Greece and Rome, where “the patriarchal family” became the norm. It was also “a slave society,” Smith added. And with this society came the “rise of prostitution.” She added, “Monogamy and prostitution go together.”
She cited Marx’s collaborator, philosopher Friedrich Engels, on condemning the right of the husband “to kill his wife” as had been upheld as far back as the ancient Greek and Roman patriarchal family. In this she traced the evolution of man-woman relationships from cavemen for whom the nuclear family had no meaning to the “class society” of those Greeks and Romans.
At issue was the ideal imposed by society in which women are “glorified as homemakers” and cheerful cleaner of toilets as in TV commercials — “and yes, I’m bitter” about that, she said. “The nuclear family ideal continues today,” canonizing “a life devoted to homemaking,” though the nuclear family “never was [the ideal] for black families in slavery.” (More later on this.)
Having children is “reproducing labor power” for capitalism. For women it means “second-class status,” signified by fact that “we abandon our last name” in marriage.
The cause of black women was set back by the 1965 Moynihan Report, in its arguing against women working “outside the home,” as “emasculating men.” Since the ’60s, she said, there has been “an increase of [anti-women] bigotry along with class inequality.”
But “the traditional family will disapear as a vehicle of capitalism,” she promised, citing the aftermath of the “Russian revolution” of 1917, before it was “crushed by an embargo that starved the population.” (More also on this later.)
From 1920, nevertheless, the new Russia declared abortion legal, repealing “all laws regarding sexual behavior.”
Smith spoke of raising a son, now age 20, “motivated a lot by guilt and shame.” She took a shot at Donald Trump for saying days earlier that a woman having an abortion should be punished as a law breaker.
She also criticized the mainstream women’s movement in which household names were Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem when such headliners should include black lesbian and socialist feminist Barbara Smith.
In question time, a man bemoaned Obama as reformer. Under Obama, he said, there have been “more restrictions” in women’s issues than before. Why not “free abortion on demand,” he asked, as the 1920 Bolsheviks offered?
Smith nodded approval at these and other comments, which were followed by murmured agreement among the audience.
“Bombs fall . . . destroying the lives of women around the world,” another man said, growing increasingly engaged and excited as he spoke.
Later, Sharon Smith picked up on this, noting that former National Organization for Women president and publisher of Ms. Magazine Eleanor Smeal and other feminist leaders favored the war in Afghanistan, so as “to help women by dropping bombs on them.”
A pregnant woman quietly but severely criticized Hillary Clinton as one who “acts to make capitalism better,” aiding and abetting “the ruling class.”
The man next to me (who commented to me earlier) spoke up for family life. “Many of us rely on our families,” he said, but the state is trying to tear families apart. Families are a support thing. We rely on them,” he repeated. “People should be able to choose,” but family life “is regulated by the state, which hits our collective sense.” (Interferes with families’ ability to help its members.)
A man spoke up as the meeting drew to a close, telling of a demonstration in Austin TX at the state capitol when legislators were to vote on closing abortion clinics. The protesters made so much noise, the building “rumbled” and “politicians couldn’t hear themselves,” he said with a chuckle.
They “shut down the government process,” he said. It was “a people’s filibuster. A sense of power was felt by everyone there. It stopped people ruining everybody’s lives.” (Actually delayed it to the wee hours of the next calendar day, when legislators approved the shutdown of abortion clinics.)
Speaking very rapidly, he said, “This is what we mean by power. We shut it down.” He said he is glad when “a mass movement gets into the streets.”
A woman spoke of a “huge rally” she had attended which she found “super-exciting.”
Another reminded the group of a Black Lives Matter rally coming a few days later at the Cultural Center.
The meeting drew to an end. Sharon Smith asked how many would be voting for Hillary Clinton. No one raised his or her hand.