Describing itself as “the oldest socialist feminist group in existence,” Radical Women (RW) is an all-female organization that professes to represent “the revolutionary wing of the women’s movement.” It views capitalism as “the ultimate destroyer of women’s rights”—an oppressive economic system that, in its obsession “to protect its profits”: (a) inflicts a host of “burning injustices” upon its many purported victims, particularly women; (b) consigns women to perpetual “second-class status,” “subjugation,” “exploitation,” and all manner of discrimination; (c) is “characterized by intense class, race, sex, ethnic and caste oppression”; and (d) constitutes “the root cause of sexism.”
To address these matters, RW calls for “the revolutionary transformation of capitalism into a socialist society” where “collective ownership,” “shared wealth,” and “freedom from poverty” are the norm. Women, says RW, “are destined to play a vanguard part” in bringing “revolutionary social change” to a world awash in “racism, sexism, homophobia, and labor exploitation.” Toward that end, RW “trains new women to take their place in the forefront of the struggle” for “social and economic justice.”
Alleging that nonwhite women in particular are assaulted by the twin evils of American racism and sexism, RW views such women as “indispensable” purveyors of its organizational message. “They have the least to lose and the most to gain by eliminating capitalism” and “the bourgeois state,” explains RW. “They are radicalized and tempered by their actual victimization in life, not just by intellectual choice.” Along these lines, RW’s Comrades of Color Caucus “monitors issues of concern to people of color, makes proposals for intervention to RW, and promotes the growth of leaders of color.”
RW’s earliest organizational roots can be traced back to Seattle, Washington, where lifelong communist Gloria Martin taught a “Free University” class on Women and Society. As a result of that class, Martin collaborated with Shulamith Firestone, Susan Stern (a prominent figure in the local Students for a Democratic Society), and Clara Fraser and Melba Windoffer (initiators of the Freedom Socialist Party) to launch RW in 1967.
From its earliest days, RW participated in the anti-Vietnam War movement and worked closely with the Black Panther Party‘s Seattle chapter “to prevent the kind of lethal police attacks that decimated Black militants in other cities.” In 1969, RW members worked to initiate the abortion-rights movement in Washington State with a march on the capitol, and in the early ’70s they helped organize a union (and a strike) of low-paid workers (mostly nonwhite females) at the University of Washington. In 1973 RW became formally affiliated with the Freedom Socialist Party. The two organizations remain affiliated to this day, “on the basis of mutual respect, solidarity, and shared socialist feminist ideals.”
Apart from its national headquarters in Seattle, RW has branches in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, as well as a chapter in Melbourne, Australia. To disseminate their anti-capitalist, anti-American message, RW members give speeches, write newspaper articles and op-eds, mobilize protests, participate in acts of civil disobedience, launch public-relations campaigns around specific issues, host community meetings and discussion groups, present films and slide shows, pass resolutions in unions and labor councils, testify at legislative meetings, lobby lawmakers, and collaborate with other community coalitions.
Twelve days after September 11, 2001, RW organizer Helen Gilbert published an opinion piece stating that “it is time to examine how the U.S. created the conditions for this horrifying terrorist attack” by pursuing foreign policies that had made it “the most hated country in the world.” A military response to 9/11, said Gilbert, would unjustifiably “kill thousands [of] innocent people in other lands” and would constitute yet another in a long line of American “imperialist wars, interventions and occupations.”
Consistent with its belief that the U.S. is a nation infested with racial injustice, RW endorsed an October 22, 2002 National Day of Protest exhorting Americans to “Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation.” The document promoting this event condemned recently enacted “laws and policies that drastically restrict civil liberties”; “cops who brutalize and kill people” with impunity; racial profiling; the post-9/11 “round[ing] up of thousands of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians” who “disappeared” soon thereafter; and the Patriot Act’s “new set of repressive laws and restrictions.” By contrast, the document explicitly defended anti-American radicals like Mumia Abu-Jamal, Jose Padilla, Leonard Peltier, and Lynne Stewart—depicting them as persecuted political prisoners of a repressive U.S. government.
RW was a Co-sponsoring Organization of the April 25, 2004 “March for Women’s Lives” held in Washington, DC, a rally that drew more than a million demonstrators advocating that women be granted unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion services. In RW’s calculus, anything short of unqualified support for “free abortion-on-demand” constitutes an assault against women’s rights.
Along with abortion rights, RW also demands “affordable [i.e., taxpayer-funded], quality, 24-hour childcare” services for all mothers; “justice for immigrants”; “an end to police violence”; affirmative action in the workplace and academia,; and the proliferation of university-level ethnic studies programs.
RW encourages its members to become “union militants,” emphasizing that “together with people of color and lesbians and gays, women are the overwhelming majority of workers and have the potential to revolutionize society.”
RW’s position on immigration and refugee policy was articulated In a July 2013 statement in which the Melbourne chapter demanded that the government “open the borders” and grant: (a) “automatic entry” to all aspiring newcomers; (b) “equal citizenship rights for all”; (c) “quality public housing for all”; (d) “full rights to welfare”; (e) “a living income for all”; and (f) “free multicultural healthcare, education and training for everyone.”
In the Marxist tradition, RW promotes “international solidarity” unbound by geographic state borders. Most notably, the organization is a vocal supporter of Palestinian efforts to combat alleged Israeli oppression.